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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