Don't Die of Ennui: A Trip Into Edward Gorey's World

It is halfway through November, and the leaves are covering the ground, so it is probably time to read one of my Amphigorey volumes by Edward Gorey. His taste for the absurd and the horrific have fascinated me since I first noticed his artwork on PBS's Mystery! opening title sequence. I never put two and two together that he was the same artist who did the Amphigorey collections until years later when I started seriously collecting cartoon collections and independent comics. As a kid, I was a big fan of John Bellairs's books with their gothic and creepy adventures in which boys like Lewis Barnevelt and Johnny Dixon faced sorceresses and wizards. The House with a Clock in its Walls and The Mummy, The Will, and the Crypt were particular favorites. Gorey did the covers for these books and many horror collections that I have read since. I habitually buy any book that has Goreycover art and reread his works almost every year. Numerous Marvin Kaye edited collections, such as Ghosts and Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural, are loaded with great stories and eye-catching Gorey covers. 

The way that Gorey mixes the absurd, the whimsical with the dark and foreboding makes his work compelling. His stories and art seem simple because they draw from Gothic literature's basic tropes along with nursery rhymes and a penchant for cute animals, but there is more to discover with each reading. Each story works on multiple levels because even when the drawings are cute, they often feel archaic, and the prose is straightforward yet pithy. As the story unfolds, readers can feel there is something deeper or hidden. Gorey's juxtaposition of the absurd with the prosaic adds a level of impending danger to his stories and each line of his prose anticipates the next.

Two of my favorite Gorey texts, "The Object-Lesson" and "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" are in his first collection, Amphigorey. Both are tragic and humorous, and Gorey's talents are fully on display. "The Object-Lesson" presents several absurd stories filled with ghosts, murder, and possible suicides. Gorey uses non sequiturs and sentence fragments in this surrealistic and disjointed story. For example, a lord hands "The Throbblefoot Spectre" a "length of string," which seems to distract it before continuing to the statue of "Corrupted Endeavor" to "wait for Autumn." "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" is one of Gorey's most famous poems because it chronicles the unfortunate deaths of 26 children, each named for the letters of the alphabet in couplets. The absurdity lies within the banal ways the children die, such as choking or drowning, and the accompanying illustrations which either show the children right before their death or in situations that seem safe enough at the moment. My favorite panels include poor "Neville who died of ennui" and "Zillah who drank too much gin." 

There are gif versions of many of Gorey's best tales, but I encourage you to buy the Amphigorey collections because there are many hidden gems. Here are several links to works I mentioned.

"The Object-Lesson" This one has sound and animation by Matt McGee. 

"The Gashlycrumb Tinies" 

Mystery! Opening Titles Check out Goreyana's discussion of the Marvin Kaye collections. 

Check out the Gorey Store. 


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