Who Is Verna in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER? Her Name and Purpose, Explained

Spoiler Alert

Mike Flanagan’s The Fall of the House of Usher doesn’t pay tribute to Edgar Allan Poe only by adapting the author’s characters and stories. The Netflix series also features an original figure who honors one of the writer’s signature techniques. Poe’s works, including some his most famous, often employ ambiguity. His tales blur the lines between reality and fantasy, nature and the supernatural, logic and madness so that that it’s sometimes impossible to know what’s real in his narratives. The unknowable elements of his stories not only elevate their horror, it forces readers to engage with them on a deeper level. That’s a big reason why so many of his tales endure to this day and always will. Just as The Fall of the House of Usher‘s Verna will.

But who is Verna really in The Fall of the House of Usher? Well, it’s not clear who or what Carla Gugino’s mysterious, ageless harbinger of doom really was. Compelling arguments can be made for her being various famous mythological figures, an amalgamation of them all, or something new entirely. But while it’s fun to guess at Verna’s real identity, not knowing makes her far more interesting and terrifying in the best tradition of Edgar Allan Poe.

A woman in a hat stnds behind a crowd on steps outside in The Fall Of The House Of Usher.

Who or What Is The Fall of the House of Usher‘s Verna?

Despite the series briefly teasing she might be a regular human woman, The Fall of the House of Usher‘s Verna is a supernatural being. Verna said she’s not actually a woman and existed before humans. Carla Gugino also described her character as “the executor of fate or the executor of karma.”

What Did The Fall of the House of Usher Reveal About Verna?

In The Fall of the House of Usher, Verna’s many powers include stopping people from dying, killing them in elaborate manners, mind manipulation, and knowing the future. She can also give people whatever they want and is responsible for the rise of some of the richest, most powerful, most heinous people of all-time. Verna offered Roderick and Madeline Usher their wildest dreams along with total, lifelong legal immunity, but that meant their bloodline would all die right before they both did. She also offered to keep Arthur Pym out of jail if he offered collateral as leverage. Interestingly, on The Fall of the House of Usher Verna knows the lives people would have led had they not accepted her offer.

Does The Fall of the House of Usher‘s Verna Directly Appear in Any of Poe’s Works?

No one named Verna appears in any Edgar Allan Poe story or poem, nor does she directly resemble any of the author’s countless characters. However, the name “Verna” comes from arguably the single most famous figure in the author’s entire bibliography, and Mike Flanagan’s Verna is intimately connected to that creature.

Where Did Verna Get Her Name?

The Fall of the House of Usher‘s “Verna” is an anagram of “Raven,” and she is clearly connected to the cawing animal of Edgar Allan Poe’s seminal poem. Verna often transformed into a raven on the show or had stuffed ravens and raven images surrounding her. Also, after Verna killed Lenore, the coulda-been-a poet Roderick Usher began reciting (what we know is) “The Raven” to express his grief as an actual raven appeared. That was certainly Verna, too. She also changed back into a raven after the collapse of the Ushers’ childhood home in the series finale.

If the two are connected, what does Poe’s “The Raven” tell us about Verna’s true identity?

What Does the Raven Symbolize in Edgar Allan Poe’s Poem?

At it’s core Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” is about grief. Some believe the bird crying out “nevermore” on that dreary night is the physical embodiment of the speaker’s own grief. Ravens have also long been associated with death and ill omens of the future. Both apply to the raven. In the poem the bird seems to portend a lifetime of sadness for the speaker who will never recover from losing Lenore.

Others think Poe’s raven symbolizes loss itself, or the madness that comes from living with it and embracing it. There’s a valid argument the bird represents the speaker’s guilt about something.

A raven caws on The Fall of the House of Usher

Verna touches upon all of these many interpretations. However, Poe’s raven has no physical control over the speaker and his fate. The bird could just be a bird looking for warmth from the rain. It might simply reflect the speaker’s feelings and lot in life because the speaker gives it meaning. Mike Flanagan’s Verna has far more tangible influence over the course of human lives. She has a “job” to do. But what job is that exactly? Like Poe’s works, the Netflix series invites us to consider multiple interpretations.

Was The Fall of the House of Usher‘s Verna the Devil?

Verna behind a bar talks to Madeline dresses as Daisy fronm The Great Gatsby on The Fall of the House of Usher
Eike Schroter/Netflix

Roderick and Madeline Usher made a deal with a supernatural being who killed innocent people who never consented to the Faustian bargain. And Verna often killed them a brutal manner that maximized their suffering. That all points to The Fall of the House of Usher‘s mystery woman being the actual Devil who, like Verna, existed before humans.

Why Is Verna on The House of Usher Not the Devil?

Verna certainly talked about herself at various times as though she is, like when she mentioned “loopholes” and unbreakable pacts. When she made an offer to Arthur Pym she even mentioned having to “come up” to see his infamous Transglobe Expedition, as though she came from Hell to Earth. However, for as much evidence that points to Verna being the Devil, there’s just as much that indicates she’s not.

Verna has no interest in souls—the most common currency of the Devil—and said they aren’t real. She seems to like making offers out of a genuine curiosity to explore human limits. Verna also possesses a real sense of right and wrong. She’s not cruel for cruelty sake. Verna is capable of love and compassion, like when she comforted Lenore. Verna loves much about her “job,” but she also has responsibilities that bring her no joy.

Why would the Devil, tasked by God in some religious teachings to tempt mankind, care about Lenore in that moment? No one else was around, so Verna didn’t need to put on a phony performance to hide her true intentions. Why let Lenore know about the millions of lives she’d help save after her death? Even the least heinous interpretations of the Devil define Satan as a creature devoid of good rather than one of active evil. If Verna were evil or devoid of goodness why would she resent not being able to give all the Usher children peaceful deaths, including the worst of them? Why would she hate to get her hands “dirty” when killing someone?

Verna smiles on The Fall of the House of Usher

And why would Verna find Roderick Usher’s tower of bodies so reprehensible if she enjoyed human suffering? Why would she save the workers at Prospero’s party and tell Morelle to leave? Wouldn’t the Devil revel in such misery? Wouldn’t the Devil try to maximize human pain at all times?

Maybe Verna isn’t the Devil. (A conclusion we can only reach if we believe what she always says, which is exactly how the Devil might trick us!) But what is she? Why does she call herself a “creature of symmetry” who is not a “broker of suffering” the way the Devil is, but rather a “witness” to suffering? Because she might instead be a figure that ultimately comes for all of us, good and evil alike.

Was The Fall of the House of Usher‘s Verna Death?

The red death in the fall of the house of usher representing color theory

The Grim Reaper is the ultimate witness of suffering. Death is there to meet all of us in the end, just as Verna was there at each Usher family member’s end. Death is also neither inherently good nor evil, same as Verna. Both simply “are.” Death is also a creature of symmetry. It takes us from a world that existed before our birth and will continue on after we’re gone. If Verna—who cannot be killed and can be everywhere at any time—is Death, it’s no wonder she finds people so fascinating and knows what lives they could have lived had they chosen a different path. All paths lead to her.

And who but Death could refuse death, like when Verna wouldn’t let Roderick die. The Devil is a tempter, not a merchant of death. Meanwhile, Verna can chose the nature of someone’s final moment. She can make their demise simple and pain free, ushering the dead across with a gentle and loving hand. She can also intervene directly to punish the wicked. Even when she does the latter, she offers words of wisdom, like with Freddie. “You’ve been scared your whole life,” she said to him. “And now you get to put that down. It’s here Frederick. I’m finally, finally here.” Yes, Death was there.

Death would also laugh when asked to name its price as Verna did because Death has none. You can’t bargain with Death, it simply has a job to do. And in Verna’s case, she both loves and hates her job. She shepherds a species she finds endlessly fascinating because she knows all of us, who we could have been, and what we are capable of.

A poster of a woman with half a raven mask covering her face for The Fall of the House of Usher

Madeline thought Verna might be Death, too. But just like the case with the Devil there’s reason to doubt Verna is the Grim Reaper. Could Death make the kinds of offers to the living Verna did? Could Death directly influence life on Earth? Does Death have that kind of power over the realm of the living?

If she’s not Death, then is she simply a new interpretation of Death, the Devil, or a combination of both? Another figure of mythology or religious doctrine? A demon? An angel? A being totally new created solely for the show?

We’ll never know. But each time we think about the show or rewatch, we might become convinced of a different answer. That’s why Verna is the The Fall of the House of Usher‘s best tribute to Edgar Allan Poe. Not knowing what she is means more than if we did.

What Role Did Verna Play on The Fall of the House of Usher?

Napoleon Usher (Rahul Kohli), disheveled and covered in blood, screams in The Fall of the House of Usher.

We might fear both the Devil and Death. But as they say, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t,” because dealing with the unknown is often far more terrifying. An enemy you can see is an enemy you can plan for. Even knowing they’re an enemy is better than being unsure if they’re a friend. There’s a type of comfort provided by certainty, even the certainty of unmistakable horror, the unknown can never provide.

The unknowable is a special kind of terror. It can make us doubt what is real and who we can trust. It makes us wonder how much are the shadows we’re seeing tricks of our mind and how much are the harbingers of doom? Is that black cat in the wall real or imagined? Does the doppelganger we see in the mirror actually there or not? Are the ghosts we see really haunting us or is it just our grief? And did the beautiful bartender actually offer us the world in exchange for our children’s lives? Once we begin to doubt our ability to know anything for certain we risk losing ourselves entirely. Unlike a monster we can see and therefore maybe defeat, not knowing what’s real creates a nightmare in our mind we can escape “nevermore.”

A woman in a green dress sits behind a woman in a red jacket in a packed audience on The Fall of the House of Usher
Eike Schroter/Netflix

Verna’s identity might be unknowable, but that’s why her role on The Fall of the House of Usher is clear. She symbolizes the ambiguity that comes with both life and death, of not always knowing where what separates good and evil, of the horror of never being sure if we’re free or puppets of fate, of the fine line between peace and pain. We’ll be debating who and what she is long after the finish clearing away the fallen remains of the Usher house.

So while she might not be a character directly out of an Edgar Allan Poe stories, she is very much a character of them.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on   Twitter and   Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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