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Creator / Edward Gorey

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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.


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.


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.
  • 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.
  • Author Appeal: As noted above, 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.
    • And he loved cats, and always owned several of them.
  • Author Existence Failure: The last compilation contains The Izzard Book (no relation), a collection of words beginning with Z. The pictures become rougher and sketchier until there's nothing but blank paper. The cataloguing of his effects after his death revealed numerous other projects left in various states of completion.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Frequently. 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.
  • Collector of the Strange: His home at the time of his death was crammed with bric-a-brac he had accumulated over the years.
  • 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.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: The fate of the protagonist of The Disrespectful Summons.
  • 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. Beware: Tear Jerker Downer Ending ahead.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The really filthy parts of The Curious Sofa are all in your head; Gorey implies everything, without actually saying or showing anything in detail (much of it is hidden behind innocuous euphemisms), and the reader's mind does the rest.
    • Good grief, the Lithuanian Typewriter!
    • Not to mention that almost every male character in the book is introduced with a different, increasingly strained euphemism for "well-hung".
  • 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.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Just ask Charlotte Sophia, the titular Hapless Child.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Picture Books: The West Wing (not that one) has no words, just increasingly unnerving illustrations.
  • 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.
    • From time to time, a creepy faceless, armless black stuffed doll appears.
  • Retraux: Has the look of Victorian or Edwardian illustration.
  • Secondary Character Title: The Curious Sofa is named after a device that doesn't show up until three pages before the book ends.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.


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