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Literature / The Gashlycrumb Tinies

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Gorey, Gorey, what a hell of a way to die.
The Gashlycrumb Tinies is a short, macabre book by Edward Gorey recounting the deaths of 26 small children. These are told in 13 couplets in rhyme. The book was published in 1963 in a collection of three "Cautionary Tales" called The Vinegar Works.

All throughout the book, the children meet all kinds of strange and unusual fates, all happening with little to no context. These range from things like falling down a flight of stairs, choking on peaches, being done in by thugs, drowning in lakes, run through with awls, or even dying of boredom.

To this day, despite (or probably because of) its subject matter, The Gashlycrumb Tinies is considered the most popular, as well as the most successful of all of Edward Gorey's works. Even after 50 years since being published, the books has never ceased to go out of print.


This work contains examples of:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: 13 boys, 13 girls, 13 rhyming couplets. None of them come out of it alive.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: Implied to have happened to one of the children, George. George is depicted crawling under a rug, which he suffocates under.
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: Each of the twenty-six children in the book are named after a letter in the English Alphabet, and no letter is missed. Along with that, the deaths are sorted by each of the children's initials in said book.
  • Anvil on Head: One of the children, Yorick, has his head "knocked in". What exactly fell on him is unclear, as he is depicted looking up at some kind of column.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Fanny is said to have been "sucked dry by a leech". Real leeches are far too small to completely drain a human, even a child, of all their blood. note 
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  • Bar Brawl: One of the children, Prue, finds herself in the middle of one, resulting in her death.
  • Bears Are Bad News: One of the children, Basil, is mauled to death by bears.
  • Black Bead Eyes: Every character in the book has small pinhole-like eyes.
  • Black Comedy: The seemingly improbable deaths in the book are especially prone to getting laughs.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: One of the children, Olive, is depicted tossing an awl in the air, which apparently killed her when it landed onto her.
  • Censored Child Death: Save for Kate, Rhoda, and Winnie, we do not actually get to see the deaths of any of the children, only the events that occurred right before. This ironically makes it all the more eerie.
  • Children Are Innocent: Much like other Edward Gorey books that focus on children, this book plays around with this trope. This book in particular likes to toy around with the vulnerability of children and the potential dangers of the world that surrounds them.
  • Class Trip: According to the subtitle After The Outing, some form of "outing" had occurred which lead to the deaths of the children, and the cover art makes it look like one of these. What the "outing" was is never specified, however.
  • Convulsive Seizures: Susan, one of the children, dies from having fits. Her panel depicts her convulsing on an ottoman.
  • Death by Despair: One of the children, Neville, dies of ennui.
  • Death by Falling Over: A few of the deaths in the book result from some of the children falling. Amy falls down a flight of stairs, Ida falls into a lake and drowns, Una falls into a sewer and dies, and Winnie presumably fell through thin ice.
  • Death of a Child: The entire premise of the book, only each death happens to a different child.
  • Ending Memorial Service: The back cover of the book depicts the graves of all twenty-six children.
  • Ensemble Cast: All of the children each get a page dedicated to them.
  • "Everyone Dies" Ending: No one makes it out of this story alive.
  • The Faceless: Fanny, George, James, Rhoda, Victor, and Winnie all qualify, as all of their faces are obscured in the two instances each are shown in (On the front cover and in their respective page in the book).
  • Flat Character: Nobody in the book has a set personality to speak of, they can only be inferred from such things as the way they are dressed and their surroundings.
  • Free-Range Children: All of the children die, completely unsupervised.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: The group of children has 13 boysnote  and 13 girlsnote .
  • Genre Mashup: The book can be thought of as a hybrid of two common story types made during the Victorian era, the cautionary tale and the alphabet book, while being a satire of both.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Jokes about Edward Gorey's name aside, this is mostly played straight, with the notable exception of Kate, whose graphic death by being struck with an axe is clearly illustrated.
  • Hazardous Water: Type I is portrayed in Maud's panel, where she is depicted to have been swept several miles away at sea on a plank of wood. The fact that the exact cause of her death is ambiguous makes the scene seem especially harrowing.
  • Juxtaposition Gag: As per the title, there are major contrasts in size between the kids, being relatively tiny, compared to the scenery.
  • Kidnapped from Behind: One of the children, Hector, encounters a thug. We only see that the thug is behind something, waiting to strike from behind.
  • Lady Drunk: Zillah is a significantly younger example of this trope, as she has apparently drank enough gin to kill her.
  • Man on Fire: Rhoda is a gender-inverted example, as she is set on fire, resulting in her death.
  • Masochist's Meal: Leo swallows tacks, resulting in his death.
  • Monochrome Casting: The only non-white character is the Thuggee cult member who strangles Hector.
  • No Name Given: The identity of the skull-faced figure on the front cover of the book is never hinted at, and is left completely up to interpretation. Some say he's supposed to be the grim reaper, seeing how the book is all about children dying, while others see him as a sort of caretaker in the afterlife to the children in the book.
  • Noodle Incident: All of the deaths in the book are treated like this. Each death is mentioned briefly with very limited context in the illustrations, and the book moves onto the next one with no further mention of the last.
  • Offscreen Villainy: Hector's panel qualifies as this, as we can only speculate what kind of heinous act the thug did to him.
    • Titus' panel can also qualify as this, seeing how someone sent a letter bomb that he opened. As does Kate's; we don't know who killed her with the axe, or why they did it.
  • Poison Is Corrosive: James accidentally drinks lye, which is known to be corrosive, instead of an unspecified concoction, resulting in his death.
  • The Plot Reaper: The only reason everyone in the story dies is just because it demands it.
  • 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 children, Quentin, dies by sinking into a mire.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: One of the children, Victor, is depicted standing on train tracks looking at something. Obviously, he is then run over by a train.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Averted, as Gorey had only used common tropes found in Victorian cautionary tales (such as children ending up in unusual circumstances, being attacked by wild animals, even the classic being lit on fire trope found in such stories makes an appearance) as a basis, rather than try and tell a moral.
  • Shoehorned First Letter: For the X entry, Gorey chose the name "Xerxes", a rare example of this trope being averted in any of Gorey's work.
  • Soap Opera Disease: Clara, one of the children, is depicted as having a case of this, as she is depicted "wasting away".
  • Staircase Tumble: The first death in the book. "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs."
  • Swarm of Rats: In this case, it is a swarm of mice that attack Xerxes, to the point of being able to devour him whole.
  • There Are No Adults: Downplayed as there are a few adult characters in the book, but they are all only implied to exist. There's the thug that killed Hector, the person who hit Kate with the axe, the people involved in the brawl that killed Prue, the hypothetical perpetrator of Titus' being blown to bits, and the person/people conducting the train that ran over Victor. Seemingly, the only other adult character that is shown is the skull-faced figure on the front cover, but as discussed, his identity is not confirmed, and could just as easily be nothing more than a symbol for death.
  • Throw 'Em to the Wolves: Desmond is thrown out of a sleigh, resulting in his death.
  • Undignified Death: Despite the simplistic death that accompanies his panel, choking on a peach, Ernest is depicted seated at the far end of a large dinner table, and implied to be surrounded by wealth.
  • Vague Age: The children in the book aren't of an exact age. Though it is likely that they are all of elementary school age, judging by their height.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: All of the children die as they are introduced in the book, that way the reader has no time to sympathize with them. This book is also their only known appearances in any official Edward Gorey book.
  • You Got Murder: Titus, one of the children, opens a letter bomb, killing him.