American Horror Story is NOT Secretly About Dante’s Inferno

by John Evans

Know what recent movie is about Dante’s Inferno?

This one:


Here’s how I know Inferno is about Dante’s Inferno:

  • It’s called Inferno.
  • Sandra Botticelli’s Map of Hell (based on Dante’s Inferno) is in it.
  • Tom Hanks has visions of Hell throughout the film that closely resemble Dante’s Inferno.
  • The villain of the film is obsessed with Dante Alighieri, and creates a virus which he calls, “Inferno.”
  • Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones follow clues based on Dante’s Inferno to stop the villain.
  • Dante’s death mask is prominently featured in the plot, and it results in the resolution of the movie.

Inferno isn’t a great film, but it’s definitely about Dante’s Inferno.

Conversely American Horror Story is definitely NOT about Dante’s Inferno!

Here’s how I know American Horror Story isn’t about Dante’s Inferno:

  • There are no direct references to Dante’s Inferno.
  • There are no indirect references to Dante’s Inferno.
  • There are no reasonable connections to Dante’s Inferno present in the show.

You see, in order for something to be about something, it has to be about that thing, barring any sort of mental gymnastics and secret codes that only the creator of the show and a fan on the computer know about.

Recently, TV Guide and other outlets released some Ryan Murphy quotes about a fan theory that American Horror Story secretly represents the different circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. The crux of the argument is that there are currently 9 seasons scheduled, and there are 9 circles of Hell in Inferno; and that some of the different characters in American Horror Story kind of represent the sins of each circle if you squint your eyes and ignore everything else that’s going on in the story.

So, for example, Season One: Murder House represents the lustful sinners of the first circle of Hell because there are lustful characters in that season. The problem with this observation is that there are lustful characters on every season of television that Ryan Murphy has ever worked on!

Dante’s Inferno is an extremely complicated work that requires the reader to have a detailed understanding of social, political and religious issues of Dante’s time and the mythological works from which Dante draws inspiration. If American Horror Story is secretly connected to the work, where is the Vestibule? Where are the contrapasso punishments? Where’s Virgil? Where’s Dante’s hubris?

TV Guide published the following quotes from Ryan Murphy on this topic:

“With American Horror Story I do like the Dante’s inferno theory. I have a theory about the show that I’ve never told anybody and probably won’t until it’s over, but that theory is a good one. I always learn a lot about my theory based on other people’s theories which is really all I can say.

I read those theories obsessively and compulsively, I cannot get enough of them, I really do. And the other actors do too. Like Sarah Paulson will talk about that all the time.”

While Murphy is obviously entertained that fans are interacting with the series in this way, the rest of his response makes it crystal clear that he doesn’t have some kind of master plan for the subtext of American Horror Story. There’s more than enough evidence out there to suggest that the theme of each season is picked at the time the team begins working on that season. Beyond that, Murphy is notably influenced by fan reactions, having adjusted the series throughout its production to meet the demands of fans. This all points to the fact that American Horror Story is a fluid series that is constantly being adjusted.

I understand why fans sometimes veer off into these directions while thinking about a show they love… they want to keep thinking about it so they make dubious connections to the rest of their literary worldview. However, it is my humble opinion that fans do a disservice to the material by trying to blow it up to be some kind of literary masterpiece when it clearly is not.

There’s so much there to discuss in American Horror Story that’s actually in American Horror Story. Let’s stick to discussing that stuff until the showmakers give us some kind of legitimate reason to explore elsewhere.


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