Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)
‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ Myths Explained: 'The Inferno' Meets 'Oz,' Medusa & Caliban
By: Domonique Cox-Salberg
For esoteric content like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, it is natural to miss some of the occult nods and references throughout the show. Fabled characters are introduced, and new layers to their arcs are explored; however, it takes some knowledge to appreciate their presence in the show entirely.
Therefore, Sabrina’s witchy adventures thrust her into the crosshairs of the likes of Caliban, Dorian Gray, figures from The Divine Comedy, and more. More specifically, we are going to focus on the myths of Part 3. Like who is Caliban, the Prince of Hell? Or who is that bartender with the oddly familiar name Dorian Gray? This article will explain where these and many more literary myths originated and how they were used in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Quick jump to the following sections:
- Ms. Wardwell’s Madness
- Wizard of Oz and Dante’s Decent into The Underworld
- The Monstrous Gorgon Medusa
- Caliban, The Prince of Hell
Hecate, Pan, Circe, Robin Goodfellow, & Vlad the Impaler
But before we start, there are references to some mythical creatures and characters that are used but on a smaller scale and still worth mentioning. These would include Pan, Hecate, Circe, Robin Goodfellow (Puck), and Vlad the Impaler. Pan is the Pagan leader who takes the Greek God’s name that turns someone mad if they look at him for too long and are taken by his song. Agatha becomes one of his victims.
Hecate is the Greek Goddess of witchcraft and magic and is the person Zelda and the other witches begin to pray to instead of Satan. Circe is a Greek goddess who can turn anyone into an animal with a simple touch.
She is responsible for the most disturbing image ever seen in the show: Hilda as a giant spider woman. Truly powerful, she is a figure not to be trifled with, as Hilda soon learns after angering her for keeping spiders as a pet. Robin Goodfellow, a trickster of sorts who plays with the humans in the play A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare, was a little harder to point out as he is foreshadowed throughout the season.
He comes in the form of a quiet new student whom Theo takes a liking to. Finally, Vlad the Impaler, the famous figure from history often associated as Dracula’s inspiration, is a figure Sabrina encounters when he bits her during her final trial to become Queen.
Ms. Wardwell’s Madness
Moreover, the first reference comes from the widely considered pre-eminent work in Italian literature and one of world literature’s greatest works: The Divine Comedy. A long narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, published in 1472, it happens to be what explains Ms. Wardwell’s madness when she finally returns. For the limited time she is in the season, her lack of recollection about what has happened to her body causes increased anxiety.
So, as the god-fearing sincere woman that she is, Wardwell turns to what she knows best, books. She starts to study the legendary The Divine Comedy, specifically, it’s first part, Inferno. Which in this part, the writer explores his journey to the dark Underworld. This book turns out to be the prophecy of what will transpire for Ms. Wardwell by the season’s end and how mad she will become. We see the consequences of her madness when she shows up at the Spellman home and shoots Zelda.
Wizard of Oz and Dante’s Descent into The Underworld
Sabrina and the gang’s adventures revolve around The Divine Comedy as well, referencing Dante’s dark descent into the Underworld in a Wizard of Oz style journey into Hell. In the first episode, where there are many nods to classic literature, Sabrina is asked by the bartender named after Dorian Gray from the famous Oscar Wilde novel for her to bring him The Flower of Evil. It is described and taken from the poems by Charles Baudelaire published in 1857, where it dealt with themes relating to decadence and eroticism.
Moreover, after a spell that directly quotes Dante’s version of the inscription on The Gates of Hell: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Sabrina, Roz, Harvey, and Theo then arrive in Hell on the “Shores of Sorrow,” which is reminiscent of how Dante arrives in Hell himself on the river Acheron’s shores.
By this point, their adventure becomes very Oz-like. There is no yellow brick road to Emerald City; instead, Sabrina and company must follow a river of blood that flows to Pandemonium, Hell’s demonic capital as defined in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. The same poem with the famous line from Lucifer:
“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
The Wizard of Oz references continue when the group comes across a scarecrow or, more so, a field of crucified people being eaten by crows. They speak to one who happens to be Theo’s uncle. Nevertheless, the best-blended scene of The Inferno and Oz comes when the gang enters the “Forest of Torment” full of talking and moaning trees. Soon after, they get attacked by an evil and obvious Oz-like Tin Man.
And for those that do not remember, in the second ring of Dante’s seventh circle, there is a forest of trees that used to be people, weeping and bleeding as birds pecked at them. Known as the forests of suicides, Dante breaks a twig off and chats with one.
Hence, among the demons Sabrina encounters include Beelzebub, who is also from Milton’s Paradise Lost. Beezlebub is sometimes used as another name for the Devil as well. The poem where Milton focuses on, Beezlebub, concentrates on two plot lines: Lucifer on one side and Adam and Eve on the other. Later in the season, the references begin to convolute and layer the artworks one upon another, creating their sinister world. We see this when former Madam Satan is oddly like the Wicked Witch of the West, dressing her minion like a flying monkey.
The Monstrous Gorgon Medusa
The entirety of Part 3 revolved around weak witches and the pagans, who channeled several legendary beasts. Most notably, the mysterious and sensual Nagaina, a pagan woman who has Medusa’s abilities. Presented as a snake charmer within the carnival that comes to Greendale, Nagaina (pronounced “nah gah EE nah”) is a name that references the cobra character in the Rudyard Kipling short story “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.”
In which this name belongs to a black cobra and one of the main antagonists in history. Another probably more familiar reference to this serpent and its name is The Dark Lord Voldemort’s Horcrux enveloped Nagini. In the Harry Potter universe, Nagini is said to have been a person at some point that could also turn into a snake, but then she was cursed and lost her human form.
Caliban, The Prince of Hell
Introduced as the Prince of Hell, Caliban was first created by William Shakespeare as a character in The Tempest, a play Shakespeare wrote in 1610-1611. In the play, Caliban is a feral, sullen, deformed creature born by a witch and enslaved by the sage Prospero after trying to dishonor his daughter, Miranda. A discourteous angry savage, Caliban stands up to his master and rebels against social inequality. He can be described as the image of a person living in a beautiful world who cannot enjoy it to the fullest due to his own foolishness.
This description makes it apparent why the showrunners decided to give the Prince of Hell the name of Caliban. Since Caliban in the show almost shortly after taking the throne tried to turn the human world into the Tenth Circle of Hell despite the fact that he was skillfully and beautifully made out of clay. And speaking of clay people, according to many legends, the first people appeared thanks to the God creating them out of clay. All in all, the name was fitting for the Sabrina character as he proved to be akin to the foolish being who emerged from the prose of Shakespeare long ago.
Lastly, as for the “Deep One” creature that resembled the Loch Ness monster during the father Blackwood storyline, it was created by HP Lovecraft, and more insight into its meaning for the show’s final season is discussed in my article here: ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ Season 4 Plot: The Eldritch Terrors & Lovecraftian Lore