My first encounter with Mr. Edward Gorey’s work was the opening to PBS’s Mystery!
At the tender young age of seven I was afraid of everything from blood to flies, so why I sat down to watch the TV show with my parents eludes me. I’m guessing, however, that the stentorian opening voice and lively piano piqued my curiosity, and Gorey’s line-art sealed the deal.
My favorite part was the moment (see :19) when the croquet ball gets whacked across the lawn only to be crushed by a falling chunk of the estate, revealing a swooning madame left abandoned on the roof. Thrilled by these grim details (and no doubt proud I could endure them without averting my eyes), I eagerly awaited the rest of this mysterious (yet classy!) cartoon.
Of course, I was promptly disappointed by the cut to live action (I didn’t care how fancy that Belgian’s mustache was), and then promptly scared by the first suggestion of foul play, which pretty much ended my watching of Mystery!
I did not forget Mr. Gorey, though, and he really won me over with his illustrations for T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Today it’s a toss-up between which I love more: Old Possum’s or The Gashlycrumb Tinies. If you’re not familiar with the latter, it’s the story of twenty-six children (from Amy to Zillah) and their untimely demises.
What most pleases me about this fateful account is the charming sing-song rhymes juxtaposed against the grisly fate of these unfortunate children. Who can mourn with such jovial dactylic couplets as “K is for Kate who was struck with an axe, L is for Leo who swallowed some tacks?” Music to my ears!
I also marvel at Gorey’s use of wide-ranging yet plausible deaths. He doesn’t rely on fantastical circumstances or ridiculous situations; instead, we have Winnie embedded in ice, Desmond thrown out of a sleigh, Ernest who choked on a peach, and 23 other commonplace deaths!
Which is another thing I appreciate about this book: its frankness. Our society works too hard to shield children from the realities of this world.
I imagine Gorey on a school visit to a first grade class . . . .
Look kids. There’s only one guarantee in this world—that you will die. And it can happen at any time. Quentin, Rhoda, Susan, pay attention! You are no exception!! Now. Everyone gather around for story time, today’s book is called The Gashlycrumb Tinies a.k.a YOUR FUTURE! [lights dim, lively Mystery! piano starts up, scene fades out.]
Honestly, if you read a book like this and aren’t inspired, you’re probably already dead. But if you’re not and you work at Booklist, here’s how you might go . . .
The Gashlycrumb Booklisters
Ed. Assistant Chris drowned in the mail.
Ed. Annie K. succumbed to a mind-numbing tale.
Coordinator Cynthia croaked in an ad-traffic jam.
Production Ed. Jennifer perished on the lam.
Production Ed. Carlos’ hair engulfed his head.
Ed. Ian was haunted by The Walking Dead.
Ref. Editor Rebecca was destroyed by e-book.
Audio Ed. Sue-Ellen was zapped by her Nook.
Ed. Assistant Courtney was picked for The Hunger Games.
Ed. Donna—a stack of ARCs is all that remains.
Ed. Director Gillian got stuck in Wheel Pose.
Prod. Director Ben—lost to an eternal doze.
Youth Editor Ilene was devoured by rats.
Marketer Katharine was smothered by cats.
Ed. Assistant Annie suffered sugar-shocks.
Ed. Assistant Sarah was offed by Monkey pox.
Youth Editor Dan was buried alive.
Manager Mary Fran crashed on the Drive.
Adult Editor Brad was scalded by tea.
Ed.-at-Large Joanne missed an apostrophe.
Editor Keir drank too many brews.
And Pub./Ed. Bill exited to bad reviews.