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Literature / The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

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If there was an answer, he’d find it there.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a 1984 picture book made by Chris Van Allsburg of The Polar Express, Zathura, and Jumanji fame.

An author and illustrator named Harris Burdick tells an editor that he has written fourteen stories and brings an illustration from each story with a caption, promising to deliver the full manuscript if the editor publishes his stories. Burdick, however, is never seen again. All that remains of him are the fourteen illustrations and their captions.

A collection of stories based on the illustrations written by well-known professional authors, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, was released in 2011.


The book provides examples of:

  • Mind Screw: Many of the images are this, as they usually show weird, surreal things that couldn't happen in real life. Why is a house blasting into space? Why is a book sprouting vines? How is that pumpkin glowing?
  • No Ending: All that remains of each story is a single sentence. Done with the intention that the reader will write their own story based off it.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Often. Quite a few of the pages allude to some unspecified danger or tragedy, and even Burdick's fate is hauntingly ambiguous. Actually a very handy tool for introducing the concept to budding horror enthusiasts.
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  • Noodle Incident: What stories could Harris Burdick have in mind for these pictures? The world may never know.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Everything in this book is left a deliberate mystery for different writers to fill in the blanks.
  • Spooky Photographs: The illustrations themselves can be pretty scary, and their collective backstory is supposed to be unnerving. The stories written by each individual author go all over the place, however.