The Simpsons Present Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” and Teachers Now Use It to Teach Kids the Joys of Literature

The Simpsons have mocked or referenced literature over its 27 (!!) seasons, usually through a book Lisa was reading, or with guest appearances (e.g., Michael Chabon & Jonathan Franzen, Maya Angelou and Amy Tan). And it has referenced Edgar Allan Poe in both title (“The Tell-Tale Head” from the first season) and in passing (in “Lisa’s Rival” from 1994, the title character builds a diorama based on the same Poe tale.)

But on the first ever “Treehouse of Horror” from 1990–the Simpsons’ recurring Halloween episode–they adapted Poe’s “The Raven” more faithfully than any bit of lit found in any other episode. The poem, read by James Earl Jones, remains intact, more or less, but with Dan Castellaneta’s Homer Simpson providing the unnamed narrator’s voice. Marge makes an appearance as the long departed Lenore, with hair so tall it needs an extra canvas to contain it in portrait. Maggie and Lisa are the censer-swinging seraphim, and Bart is the annoying raven that drives Homer insane.

Castellaneta does a great job delivering Poe’s verse with conviction and humor, while keeping the character true to both Homer and Poe. It’s a balancing act harder than it sounds.

Suffice it to say that this foray into Poe was good enough for several teachers guides (including this one from The New York Times) to suggest using the video in class. (We’d love to hear about this if you were a teacher or student who experienced this.) And it’s the first and only time that Poe got co-writing credit on a Simpsons episode.

Related Content:

The Simpsons Pay Wonderful Tribute to the Anime of Hayao Miyazaki

Watch The Simpsons’ Halloween Parody of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining

Thomas Pynchon Edits His Lines on The Simpsons: “Homer is my role model and I can’t speak ill of him.”

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (7)
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  • edmund says:

    i used this the first time i taught 8th grade english

  • Jiovanna says:

    I have been a fan of The Simpsons since the 90s. I quote them pretty much everyday, so when I was an undergrad, I was given the opportunity to teach a class for extra credit when I was studying literature. We were read Poe at the time and this very episode that I watched when I was 5/6 frightened and intrigued me so much that I became a fan of Poe. Naturally, I own this season (and several others) and so I taught a class based on this and it went over really well. Everyone enjoyed it and the discussion that followed was very lively. I have learned a lot about life, pop culture, and religion from The Sinpsons. I will always love them dearly.

  • Martin Cohen says:

    Mad Magazine did an illustrated version of “The Raven” in 1954. It used all the words, with Bill Elder supplying the hilarious illustrations.

    Ah, the good old days, when Mad was a literary magazine.

  • Natalie Hamilton says:

    I have always included this video when studying Poe in 1st year Intro to Literature survey courses. The humour makes it the material covered and the analysis more memorable, and the students can see the real impact of literature on pop culture, which in turn helps even those students who are only taking the class as a requirement (and not out of interest) to become more engaged with the course material.

  • Lenore Simpson says:

    I come by it honestly. As you can see I’m a Simpson named Lenore and have a Raven tattooed on my neck.

  • ella says:

    i love this story girl keep it up

  • N Herrera says:

    Yes on our Halloween costume wearing day my English teacher played this for the class To teach us literature as well as the fact that we have a raven as our school mascot.

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