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Edward St. John Gorey (1925–2000) was an American writer and illustrator best known for writing several short tales, often told in rhyme (usually couplets) and very surreal and macabre in tone. Gorey experimented in a wide variety of art-styles over the years, but his trademark look was a very distinct and meticulous style of cross-hatched ink drawing that could be described as Victorian or Edwardian. He admitted that his own professional art training was "negligible", but he did illustration work for a wide variety of media, ranging from book covers and illustrations, to the animated opening for the PBS show Mystery!, to creating the sets for the 70's smash hit Broadway production of Dracula (1924).

Gorey had a fondness for anagrams, jumbling up his own name to make several pseudonyms. He also liked ballet, silent movies, fur coats, vintage tennis shoes and cats, all of which were featured in his work. During his later years, he belatedly discovered television, and developed an affection for some of the darker shows of the era, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Batman: The Animated Series and The X-Files.

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Born in Chicago, he spent World War II manning a desk in Utah, attended Harvard (where he majored in French rather than art), and lived a large chunk of his life in New York City. He evidently was never terribly fond of that last city, seeming to consider it a sort of necessary evil that allowed him free access to his artistic commissions and far more importantly his cultural interests, most especially the New York City Ballet under the direction of the genius of George Balanchine; Gorey religiously attended every performance for years. With the death of Balanchine in 1982 and a steady income from the royalties for his more popular works, Gorey relocated to a small village in Cape Cod, where he lived the rest of his life in semi-retirement, showing rather more interest in mounting various (rather bizarre) amateur theatrical productions than continuing his career as an author and illustrator. He died of a heart attack at the age of 75.

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Some of his more notable works:

  • The Unstrung Harp (1953): A look into the tortured creative mind, as a neurotic Edwardian-era author struggles through the process of writing, editing, and publishing his latest novel.
  • The Doubtful Guest (1957): A strange penguin...thing takes up lodgings in a stately mansion and stays there for 17 years.
  • The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963): An alphabet book featuring the various grim deaths of 26 small children.
  • The Epiplectic Bicycle (1969): Two children ride a strange and seemingly magical bicycle on a journey of gothic nonsense.
  • The Haunted Tea-Cosy: A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas. (1997): Depressed, miserly loner Edmund Gravel is taken through a bizarre variation on Yet Another Christmas Carol that is equal parts creepy, cynical, and comical.
  • The Headless Bust: A Melancholy Meditation on the False Millennium (1999): Gorey's last published work before his death. It is a sequel to The Haunted Tea-Cosy, involving a giant Mind Screw look at the human condition that will likely end with your brain dribbling out your ears as you try to make sense of what you've just read.

Many of his works are available in the "Amphigorey" anthology collections.


Tropes exhibited in the works of Edward Gorey:

  • Adult Fear: All his books run on the adult fear of ennui, loneliness, and the fears of children unprotected by the world and adults around them.
  • Affectionate Parody: The Awdrey-Gore Legacy is one for the works of Agatha Christie, his all-time favorite author.
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: Each of the twenty-six children in The Gashlycrumb Tinies are named after a letter in the English Alphabet. Along with that, the deaths are sorted by each of the children's initials in said book.
  • Ambiguous Ending: A good chunk of Gorey's books do not have proper endings, but instead stop very abruptly.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The entry for "X" in The Fatal Lozenge, features a waitress in a cafe with this look who seems blissfully unaware of the fact that a racist customer (the eponymous Xenophobe) is silently fighting the urge to beat her up.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Gorey certainly wasn't what you would call straight, but he was reluctant to mention his sexuality in interviews. At times he would grudgingly accept being identified as a gay man while at others he would claim to be asexual. (He certainly never had any long-term romantic relationships.) This has led some commentators in the LGBT press to label him a Category Traitor for never engaging with the gay community at large or speaking out about gay rights despite being active at the height of the AIDS crisis and other pivotal moments in queer history in America.
  • Animalistic Abomination: There's something... not quite right about the title character of The Doubtful Guest.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: The Inanimate Tragedy puts an interesting twist on this idea by having objects commit suicide.
  • Author Appeal: To say that Gorey was an ballet enthusiast during his years living in New York City is something of an understatement, and its influence filtered throughout his work. In particular, The Gilded Bat is his homage to the art.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Inverted with the aptly-named "Beastly Baby". Gorey goes out of his way to make the thing as unpleasant as possible: aside from being physically repulsive, it's smelly, whiny, and cruel (one of the illustrations shows it killing a kitten, which Gorey would have considered a Moral Event Horizon), and no one is particularly concerned when it is snatched up by an eagle one day and falls to earth with a very audible splat (or rather, a "wet sort of explosion") when the eagle loses its grip.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: Despite being a "pornographic" novel, all of the characters in The Curious Sofa apparently have no genitals. Played more straight in The Grand Passion, where one of the characters is depicted nude.
  • Bears Are Bad News: One of the Gashlycrumb Tinies, Basil, is mauled to death by bears.
    • The titular Evil Garden in the book of the same name also had ferocious bears that guard its fruit.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Very thinly veiled in The Curious Sofa:
    They were soon joined by Donald, Herbert's' singularly well-favored sheepdog, and many were the giggles and barks that came from the shrubbery.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The primary inhabitants of The Evil Garden.
    • Let's also not forget the famous Bahum Bug, a giant anthropomorphic bug.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Frequently (but almost always subverted, as Gorey admitted he was bad with foreign languages). The Blue Aspic (a story about opera) and The Gilded Bat (about ballet) are filled with names and titles that turn out to be hilarious to anyone who knows the languages or can look them up.
    • E.g.: The protagonists of The Blue Aspic, Jasper Ankle and Ortenzia Caviglia, are linked by their names — caviglia is "ankle" in Italian. Caviglia's agents are named Rigaglie ("Giblets" in Italian) and Vithologos ("Drummer" in Greek).
  • Black Comedy: Much like Charles Addams, Gorey was an expert at finding humor in even the grisliest situations.
  • Book Burning: Henry Clump from The Pious Child does this to every book which has lines that could potentially be interpreted to rebel against God. Though this is downplayed, as he does not so much burn the books, as much as cross off and blot out the allegedly heretical lines from said books.
  • Censored Child Death: Save for Kate and Winnie, we do not actually get to see the deaths of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, only the events that occurred right before. This ironically makes it all the more eerie.
  • Clueless Mystery: Parodied in The Iron Tonic. All throughout the book are pictures of landscapes. On each page there is a close-up of what seems to be a clue to the supposed mystery. In actuality, none of the clues connect together in any meaningful way.
  • Collector of the Strange: His home at the time of his death was crammed with bric-a-brac he had accumulated over the years.
  • Convulsive Seizures: Susan, one of the Gashlycrumb Tinies, has some of these, resulting in her death.
  • Creator Cameo: He drew himself into his comics from time to time, most notably "He wrote it all down Zealously."
    • In fact, he kills himself off in The Chinese Obelisks, or a person who looks alarmingly similar to him (long beard, fur coat, white shoes).
  • Creature of Habit: Gorey freely admitted he was one of these, developing daily routines that he religiously stuck to. (Though said routines did shift over the years, especially after he relocated from New York.)
  • Dada Comics: Arguably some of his stranger works veer into this territory. For instance, The Inanimate Tragedy is about a bunch of small objects committing suicide. L'Heure Bleue (The Blue Hour) is about two dogs in sweaters having bizarre conversations.
  • Death by Despair: One of the Gashlycrumb Tinies, Neville, dies of ennui.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: The fate of the protagonist of The Disrespectful Summons.
  • Eerily Out-of-Place Object: From time to time, a creepy faceless, armless black stuffed doll appears in his books, often well hidden. Whenever it shows up, it usually indicates that something terrible is about to happen.
  • Enfant Terrible: The titular Beastly Baby, who burns the upholstery with acid and shoots bric-a-brac off of tables. The book as a whole can be thought of as an exaggerated representation of the hardships of having a baby.
  • Excessive Mourning: Defied in The Osrick Bird. The titular bird becomes good friends with a man named Emblus Fingby for many years. After he dies, the bird mourns his death for several months, sitting on his tombstone. It then decides to move on and flies off. The wording gives the event a bit of a cynical edge.
    He was interred, the bird alone
    Was left to sit upon his stone.
    But after several months, one day
    It changed its mind and flew away.
  • Extreme Omnivore: The title character of The Doubtful Guest eats all of the toast and syrup in a Edwardian family's house, along with part of a dinner plate.
    • Aside from eating children, the Wuggly Ump is said to eat umbrellas, gunny sacks, brass doorknobs, mud, and carpet tacks.
  • Father's Quest: Parodied in The Hapless Child, which concerns the pretty and tended daughter of a British Army reservist who is called to duty overseas. Not long thereafter, the mother falls into a "decline" that proves fatal. The daughter gets shunted to an orphanage, which in those days was a legalized hellhole. She escapes, only to fall into the clutches of a "brute" who keeps her prisoner in a basement, making lace in minimal lighting. The father returns home, learns the fate of his wife, and that his daughter has gone missing from the orphanage. He rides his motorcar through the London streets daily, calling his daughter's name in a desperate hope that she'll appear.
  • Feathered Fiend: The title character of The Doubtful Guest is an Animalistic Abomination that looks vaguely like a penguin. Downplayed in that it's more of a nuisance than a threat, but that doesn't stop it from being creepy.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Gorey was a well-known animal welfare advocate, especially in his later years. So much so that he decided to open up a portion of his home to a family of raccoons that settled in his attic. This was also what got him to abandon his trademark fur coat. After he died, all of the money he had gathered was sent off to several animal charities.
  • Funny Background Event: In The Curious Sofa, it mentions "the party split into threes and twos before retiring", meaning the groups are about to have sex. Seen leaving with a couple is the main character's dog.
  • Garden of Evil: The Evil Garden, obviously.
  • Green Rocks: Many of Gorey's works reference an elusive substance known as "Q.R.V.". It has many amazing (yet harrowing) properties, but no one knows for sure what it actually is.
  • Harmless Villain: The title character of The Doubtful Guest is more creepy and annoying than truly malicious.
  • Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight: Inverted, in that Gorey evidently enjoyed sitting in a tiny room drawing machine-like cross-hatching all day, and was at best ambivalent about his growing fame.
  • Here We Go Again!: The last panel of The Eleventh Episode dovetails into its first.
  • Human Sacrifice: The Insect God does this to the child they kidnapped.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Unsurprisingly, usually averted. To wit:
    • The Gashlycrumb Tinies, in one famous example, comes up with a hilarious child death for every letter of the alphabet.
    • The Beastly Baby. When it finally meets its end, no one is sad to see it go.
    • The Hapless Child is another aversion of this, as is The Insect God.
    • Zigzagged in The Dwindling Party. Neville, youngest of the Macfizzets, is the only survivor among the seven, but the casualties also include the not-much-older-looking Emily.
  • Irony: When told his cordless phone's battery cost $22, Gorey threw back and moaned. The speaker thought he was reacting to the price of the battery, but no, he'd died of a heart attack. His death was straight out of one of his books.
  • Jerkass: Some of his books have one in some shape or form.
    • The titular character in The Doubtful Guest
    • Just about everyone aside from the protagonist and her family in The Hapless Child
    • A few noteworthy characters in The Curious Sofa
    • Henry Clump from The Pious Infant
    • Embly and Yewbert from The Epiplectic Bicycle
    • The titular Loathesome Couple
  • Kidnapped from Behind: One of the Gashlycrumb Tinies, Hector, meets this fate.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Just ask Charlotte Sophia, the titular Hapless Child.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: To say Gorey loved cats would be an understatement. He'd draw many cats in some of his books as well. He was often considered by his friends as sweet and genial.
  • Later Installment Weirdness: Compared to his older books, the artstyle of Gorey's more recent books (Most notably everything after The Unknown Vegetale) is considerably more simplistic. Characters also appear to be more bug-eyed and spindly in appearance.
  • Living Shadow: The three spectres in The Haunted Tea-Cosy are all represented as literal shadows.
  • Loony Fan: The Blue Aspic has Jasper Ankle, who is utterly obsessed with the fictional opera singer Ortenzia Caviglia. Throughout the book, he is shown to obsessively wait to buy tickets to her shows, collect various newpaper clippings that mention her, write long letters to her that go unanswered, walk onto the set as she was performing, get sent to an asylum for his obsession, and finally fatally stabbing her in the throat before he stabs himself.
  • Mad Lib Thriller Title: The Iron Tonic, The Sinking Spell, The Remembered Visit etc.
  • Meaningful Name: With a name like Edward GOREy, is no surprise that he wrote The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Though he evidently rolled his eyes at critics and reviewers who took the easy route in referencing his name in this fashion.
    • In-Universe, a lot of characters in Gorey's works also have these. For example, the surname of character, Ortenzia Caviglia, is actually the Italian word for "ankle", much like that of her stalker, Jasper Ankle.
  • Mind Screw: Every one of his books, really, but most notably The Epiplectic Bicycle. Those kids were apparently on their strange bike ride for 173 years, with "only an obelisk raised to their memory" where their house should be.
  • Monochrome Casting: As befitting the faux-Edwardian style of the illustrations, the number of non-white people who appear in his work can be counted on one hand.
  • Nervous Wreck: Mr. Earbrass, the successful but tortured novelist at the center of The Unstrung Harp.
  • Non-Human Head: The Prune People, as indicated by the title, is all about a race of people that have prunes for heads.
  • Noodle Implements: In The Willowdale Handcar, what is going on with Nellie, Dick and the man in the canoe?
  • Noodle Incident: The elaborate plot of Mr. Earbrass's novel in The Unstrung Harp is only hinted at.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Exaggerated in The Hapless Child. The child protagonist not only loses both of her parents and her uncle, her only other living relative, but she is then sent to an orphanage where she is treated cruelly by the other children and teachers. She then runs off, gets kidnapped and sold to a mentally ill "brute", forced to make paper flowers in poor living conditions, becomes nearly-blind, and finally gets run over by her own father who was desperately looking for her. Made even worse when her father can no longer recognize her from all she's been through.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: Many of Gorey's works are chockful of surreal creatures, especially in The Utter Zoo. Examples include the Ulp, which is so small it can "hardly be seen at all", the Ombledroom which is considerably large and white, and the Scrug which is "unusable for cooking".
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: Much like Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, Gorey was also exceptionally fond of creating new words. His most famous example is found in the title of The Epiplectic Bicycle.
  • Picture Books: The West Wing (not that one) has no words, just increasingly unnerving illustrations.
  • Print Long-Runners: Even after more than 50 years, with a small cult following no less, The Gashlycrumb Tinies has never gone out of print.
  • Quicksand Sucks: One of the Gashlycrumb Tinies, Quentin, dies by sinking into a mire.
    • In The Evil Garden one of the characters die by being sucked into a bubbling pond.
  • Random Events Plot: The Object Lesson is an early example, with barely any connection between one sentence and the next.
  • Reclusive Artist: He didn't exactly hide from the world, but he was an intensely private man who kept his various friendships rigidly compartmentalized and almost never shared his true feelings. (See Ambiguously Gay above for one example of his total reluctance to give, ahem, straight answers about his personal life.)
  • Reoccurring Prop: A small white visiting card, usually lying on the ground, appears in almost every book.
    • To a lesser degree, the author's enormous fur coat often turns up.
  • Retraux: Has the look of Victorian or Edwardian illustration.
  • Riches to Rags: Charlotte Sophia, the protagonist of The Hapless Child, starts off living comfortably with her affluent family, becomes an orphan after her father is presumed dead and her remaining relatives die, and eventually lives in poor living conditions in hard labor before her untimely death.
  • Secondary Character Title: The Curious Sofa is named after a device that doesn't show up until three pages before the book ends.
  • Sexual Euphemism: Try and make it through The Curious Sofa without once cracking up at the repeated use of men being "well-endowed". Not to mention the seemingly abhorrent sexual act known simply as the "Lithuanian Typewriter".
  • Shoehorned First Letter: Many of his alphabetical poems would often use, for X, words that actually begin with an E, such as "excited."
    • Averted in The Gashlycrumb Tinies with "X is for Xerxes devoured by mice."
    • Lampshaded in The Eclectic Abecedarium with "The letter X / is made to vex."
  • Significant Anagram: "Ogdred Weary," "Dogear Wryde", "Regera Dowdy", "D. Awdrey-Gore", "Waredo Dyrge", "E.G. Deadworry"...
    • Combined with Bilingual Bonus at least once. The Evil Garden is credited to Eduard Blutig ("Edward Gory" in German), with translation by Mrs. Regera Dowdy and illustrations by O. Müde ("Ogdred Weary" in German).
  • Spiritual Successor: Many, from Tim Burton to Junji Ito.
  • Staircase Tumble: The first death in The Gashlycrumb Tinies. "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs."
  • Static Character: You won't find very much character development in most of Gorey's books.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: The titular Doubtful Guest.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Parodied in The Pious Infant.
  • Walking the Earth: The Willowdale Handcar. Three cousins, bored of their small town life, find an old pumpcart at the railway station and decide to take it for a whirl. Their travels take them further out of the town, and they write back to their families, not sure of when they'll come back, and spend their time visiting odd curiosities before entering a train tunnel and never appearing from the other side.
  • When Trees Attack: Tragédies Topiares, a collection of postcards, revolves around specifically shaped topiaries attacking people in unusual ways.
  • Word Salad Title: Several of Gorey's works bear titles with seemingly no relation to the work itself; The Blue Aspic, for example, is about a devious opera singer and her disturbed admirer, while The Fatal Lozenge is an alphabetical series of poems about people of various occupations and the dreadful things that they do.
  • Would Hurt a Child: A reoccurring crime that occurs in Gorey's works.

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