Thursday, September 27, 2012

Something Gorey for Halloween

     If reading Edgar Allan Poe isn't to your taste this Halloween, here's another, lighter suggestion: Edward Gorey.

     If you're not already familiar with Gorey (1925-2000), he was the writer-illustrator of some of the most demented, macabre but charming pseudo children's books ever published. That is,  they were published in a format resembling children's picture books -- small hardcovers, with little text and deceptively simple line drawings on each page -- but most are also now available in omnibus "Amphigorey" volumes: Amphigorey, Amphigorey Too, Amphigorey Also and Amphigorey Again.

     In addition, he designed sets for a revival of the Hampton Deane stage play of Dracula, many greeting cards and the characters for the opening credits of PBS's Mystery series (parts of which may still be seen in the credits for Masterpiece Mystery).

     The books, illustrated in an Edwardian-Victorian style, look innocent until you read the text. One of my favorite volumes is titled The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an ABC book ("A is for ...") which describes the manner of death of 26 children (usually it's the moment just before that is depicted, or sometimes the aftermath). It begins: "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs/B is for Basil, assaulted by bears."

     Some are more whimsical, eerie but not gross, such as another favorite, The Doubtful Guest, which could be Gorey's version of Poe's The Raven, if the raven was six-foot-tall and wore a long, striped scarf and canvass tennis shoes, and invaded not the home of a lovelorn man bemoaning his lost Lenore, but a family who are more or less annoyed by the mischief it causes. "It came 17 years ago, and to this day/it has shown no intention of going away."
     Other titles include The Beastly Baby, The Pious Infant, The Wuggly Ump, The Evil Garden and The Inanimate Tragedy.
     Before I mostly stopped sending Christmas cards, I would buy a box of Gorey Christmas cards every year. My favorite was "A Future Unremembered Poet of the Seventeenth Century accepts a Christmas Cookie from the Great Veiled Bear," depicting the poet as a small child, with the (polar) bear wearing ice skates.
        Gorey also illustrated other people's books, including a handsome volume of T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which I believe was released to capitalize on the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats.

     Broadway actress Tammy Grimes once recorded an LP of Gorey's stories (yes, I own a copy), and some friends wanted to put the stories to  music and perform them on stage.
     His illustrations have also appeared in calendars, and it's in part thanks to two of those that I got to know my future wife.
     (She had a page-a-day Gorey calendar on her desk at The Macomb Daily, and that was the first time I noticed her as other than an attractive presence about the building. Weeks later, I found another Gorey calendar -- featuring the text and drawings for The Deranged Cousins -- slipped into my desk drawer with no note. I was puzzled, but then remembered the page-a-day calendar, and wondered if this were her way of letting me know she was interested in me ... which, upon reflection,  I found an appealing idea. Alas, she hadn't put it there, and I never did learn who had. Still, it planted a seed, so I doubly credit Gorey for bringing us together.)

     The Book Beat (26010 Greenfield at Lincoln, just north of I-696 in Oak Park; 248-968-1190, or has a wide selection of Gorey books across from the cash register, as well as other merchandise (cards, calendars, old and new, and -- at one time, at least -- rubber stamps).

Photo of Edward Gorey from Wikimedia Commons by Christopher Seufert; covers of books and calendar from Barnes and


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