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What Is Netflix's The Pale Blue Eye Adapted From?

Netflix's prestigious new feature film, "The Pale Blue Eye," is a gothic thriller and period piece that finds a hardened detective teaming up with none other than Edgar Allen Poe, the master of the American gothic himself, to solve a series of baffling murders. Christian Bale stars as Detective Augustus Landor, a man with all the hallmarks of a good detective: a dark past, a reluctance to take the case, and a serious drinking problem. But as the case begins to widen in scope, involving Satanic rituals, slaughtered animals, and witnesses who seem to be hiding the truth, the detective ends up enlisting Poe (Harry Melling). 

Though the writer means little to the people within the film, having not yet been recognized for his genius or placed in the syllabi of every eighth-grade English class, the relationship he develops with Bale's haunted sleuth is the emotional core of the narrative.

But director and writer Scott Cooper cannot take sole credit for the intriguing and emotional narrative. "The Pale Blue Eye" is an adaptation of a delightfully inventive book from the early 2000s, written by one of our time's most prolific historical novelists.

The Pale Blue Eye is adapted from Louis Bayard's novel of the same title

Netflix's "The Pale Blue Eye" is an adaptation of Louis Bayard's 2006 work of historical fiction by the same title. Bayard has always avoided the common traps of historical fiction. Such novels can often feel trite, like the side project of a middling high school civics teacher, by reducing the complexity of their subjects to easily digestible narratives. The worst historical novels render history a dull, flat object — nothing more than a painted backdrop for well-worn tropes. But Bayard has always operated in a different mode, interested less in the cold facts of history than in the people he plucks from it to color his tales.

"The Pale Blue Eye" was no exception. In a starred review, Publisher's Weekly declared, "This beautifully crafted thriller stands head and shoulders above other recent efforts to fictionalize Poe." Bayard studied at Princeton under Joyce Carol Oates before getting a degree in journalism at Northwestern, then staffed for the U.S. House of Representatives (via The Washington Post), and his writing reflects that scope of experience. 

He sublimates the relationship between Augustus Landor and Edgar Allen Poe in a queer subtext that resonates far beyond the period setting of the novel. As Landor notes at one crucial moment, "The past comes on with all the force of the present." Ultimately, it is the tenderness between the detective and the poet rather than the murder mystery which serves as the book's true revelation.

A reprinting of "The Pale Blue Eye" has been made available featuring cover art from the Netflix film. Bayard teaches at George Washington University, and his most recent novel, "Jackie & Me," was released in 2022.