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Literature / The Doubtful Guest

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The Doubtful Guest is a short, surreal picture book written and illustrated by Edward Gorey, originally published in 1957.

A Victorian family hears a knock on the door of their mansion late one night. Going outside, they encounter a strange, penguin-like creature wearing a scarf and canvas shoes. It runs into their home and ends up staying with them, doing a variety of mischievous, strange things. By the book's end, it's been there for seventeen years and shows no intention of going away.

The book was apprarently meant for children. However, the vaguely sinister feel of the story coupled with Gorey's gothic, darkness-filled drawings made Doubleday, the book's publisher, disallow him marketing it as such.


This work contains examples of:

  • Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal: The creature is seen several times without its scarf, but it never takes off its white canvas shoes.
  • Feathered Fiend: The creature 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.
  • Harmless Villain: The creature is more creepy and annoying than truly malicious.
  • No Ending: The story simply ends with no explanation of where the creature came from, what any of his strange actions meant, or when and if he'll ever leave the family's mansion.
  • No-Dialogue Episode: None of the family is seen speaking and the creature apparently doesn't make noise; the entire story is told by a third-person narrator.
  • No Name Given: We never learn the family's names or whatever they called the creature.
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  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: By the end of the story, the creature has been with the family for seventeen years "and...shows no intention of going away".
  • Sleepwalking: One of the creature's strange quirks:
    In the night through the house it would aimlessly creep, in spite of the fact of it being asleep.
  • Time Skip: The last page of the book jumps forward 17 years to apparently the present day, with the creature still dwelling in the family's home.

Example of: