When The Fall of the House of Usher landed on Netflix in October 2023, it represented one of the horror sensations of this year. And the reasons why it caught the spotlight are apparent: the director, Mike Flanagan, is responsible for recent masterpieces of fear like Oculus, The Haunting of Hill House, Gerald’s Game, and Doctor Sleep. This time, the inspiration for the series comes from a piece of history: the famous short novel by Edgar Allan Poe, the American master of Gothic horror. And since the TV show portrays a complex modern story, viewers were interested in the differences between the series and the book and the summary of the original story. Let’s analyze it together.
You can watch the official trailer for Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher here on Youtube.
The Fall of the House of Usher: book vs. series differences
The first thing we need to mention about the differences between the Netflix series The Fall of the House of Usher and the short novel by Edgar Allan Poe is related to when the story is set: Edgar Allan Poe published this work in 1839, whereas the director Mike Flanagan moved his version of the story in the present.
With this in mind, we immediately understand how Flanagan intended to use Poe’s atmosphere and characters as an inspiration, building an entirely new story on top of them. In Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the Usher family is a wealthy dynasty that runs one of America’s most prominent modern pharmaceutical companies, Fortunato Pharmaceutics. The contemporary context where the series’ story takes place spins around the evil practices of pharma companies, with specific attention to the opioid epidemic that was recently trending after Netflix released Painkiller.
This, of course, has nothing to do with the original novel By Edgar Allan Poe: Poe wrote the story in the early 1800s, before the pharmaceutical industry even existed. Besides that, another relevant difference between the book and the series is about the social prestige of the Usher family. In The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix, the Usher family owns a vast business and represents one of the wealthiest families in America; in contrast, the book by Edgar Allan Poe describes it as a family that never really flourished. Poe’s protagonist, Roderick Usher, is a decadent old man, alone, living in his dark mansion, scared about how his life will evolve in the following days.
Another factor that helps us understand the differences between the series and the book is the story length of The Fall of the House of Usher. Mike Flanagan created a series that counts eight episodes, telling the story of the Usher family starting when Roderick Usher was a kid. On the one hand, the Netflix series covers decades, from the 90s to today; on the other, the short story by Edgar Allan Poe faces only the last few days of Roderick’s life.
The number of characters is another big difference: the Netflix series shows us the complete set of members of the Usher family, with Roderick’s six children, his grandchildren, his mother, and his sister Madeline. In Edgar Allan Poe, there is only Roderick and Madeline, plus the narrator. The narrator is another element that makes the book and the series different: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe is written from the narrator’s point of view, Roderick’s childhood friend, invited by him into the house; on the other side, the Netflix series is a long story exposed by Roderick himself, and it involves the point of view of all the other characters involved.
Therefore, we can consider the Netflix series The Fall of the House of Usher a different story compared to the book by Edgar Allan Poe. However, Flanagan succeeds in portraying some of the fascinating elements of the original story: the gloomy atmosphere, the concept of death that comes from the afterlife to haunt living ones, and the fear for your own destiny. Besides, as Poe’s fans noticed, every episode takes inspiration from another different story born by the writer’s mind: The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, Murder in the Rue Morgue, Goldbug, and the others… the series aimed to recreate Poe’s whole imagination into its plot, and every episode can be considered a new interpretation of one of his short stories. Even the character of Arthur Gordon Pym is inspired by The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Poe’s only novel, and also Lenore and Annabel Lee are characters taken from Poe’s universe. Lenore, in particular, has a fascinating symbolism that we explained in the article below.
The book summary
The Fall of the House of Usher is a Gothic short story published in 1839 by Edgar Allan Poe. It revolves around the narrator, who visits his friend Roderick Usher at his decaying and isolated mansion. Roderick’s sister, Madeline, is seriously ill, and her condition deteriorates rapidly: she dies while the narrator is there, and Roderick decides to bury her in the tombs below the house. However, starting from that moment, Roderick starts hearing sounds and looks scared.
As the story progresses, a series of eerie events unfold, culminating in a horrifying climax involving Roderick’s biggest fear coming true. The tale is characterized by its atmospheric setting, vivid descriptions, and exploration of themes like madness, decay, and the blurred lines between reality and the supernatural. Poe’s masterful storytelling creates a sense of foreboding and unease, making The Fall of the House of Usher a classic of American Gothic literature.
If you haven’t read the short novel by Edgar Allan Poe, this is the perfect opportunity to rediscover it. You can find it in one of the American author’s many collections of short stories: being one of his most famous works, you won’t miss it.