Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Edward Gorey’

04 FEBRUARY, 2013

The Shrinking of Treehorn: An Edward Gorey Illustrated Gem, 1971

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The unusual story of a little boy who grows littler.

As a lover of vintage children’s books and of Edward Gorey’s intricate and irreverent illustrations, I was delighted to stumble upon an original first edition of the 1971 gem The Shrinking of Treehorn (public library), written by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Gorey. This first installment in the Treehorn trilogy, followed by Treehorn’s Treasure (1981) and Treehorne’s Wish (1986), tells the curious Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-Benjamin-Button story of a little boy who is shocked to discover that he is shrinking, but can’t figure out the cause or the cure.

Something very strange was happening to Treehorn.

The first thing he noticed was that he couldn’t reach the shelf in his closet that he had always been able to reach before, the one where he hid his candy bars and bubble gum.

The Shrinking of Treehorn and the other two books in the series were eventually reprinted in 2011 in a single volume, The Treehorn Trilogy. Complement it with some Gorey’s other gems, including his snarky illustrated commentary on 1960s culture, his classic gory alphabet book The Gashlycrumb Tinies, his Little Red Riding Hood adaptation, and his frisky story for adults only.

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12 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Thoughtful Alphabets: Edward Gorey’s Lost Cryptic 26-Word Illustrated Stories

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A delightfully dark journey into the love of language.

Having a soft spot for all things Edward Gorey and unusual alphabet books, I was thrilled by Pomegranate’s new edition of Thoughtful Alphabets: The Just Dessert and The Deadly Blotter (public library) — a collection of two cryptic 26-word stories, in which the word begin with the letters of the alphabet in order and the story progresses as the alphabet does in parallel.

The stories belong to a mid-90s “Thoughtful Alphabets” series, the first six volumes of which were released as hand-lettered posters illustrated with clip-art. Then, several years ago, stories numbers XI and XVII emerged as signed limited-edition books featuring Gorey’s original drawings — but the books quickly went out of print. In this beautiful resurrection, Gorey’s signature blend of wit and dark whimsy shines in each of the micro-vignettes — a fine complement to his beloved alphabet classic, The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, courtesy Pomegranate. All rights reserved.

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02 AUGUST, 2012

Edward Gorey Illustrates Little Red Riding Hood and Other Classic Children’s Stories

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An irreverent take on some of history’s most beloved storytelling.

After exploring classic children’s stories through the lenses of architecture and minimalist graphic design, Three Classic Children’s Stories (public library) brings the unmistakable Edward Gorey aesthetic of the irreverent fancy to Little Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant-Killer, and Rumpelstiltskin, charmingly retold by James Donnelly. The result is a gem that lives somewhere between the best of the Brothers Grimm, early Arabian Nights illustrations, and Harry Clarke’s haunting artwork for Edgar Allan Poe, with the distinct Gorey flair.

From Little Red Riding Hood:

WHUMP and a minor cloud of dust! Something leapt into the path. Little Red Riding Hood hastily arose, and her eyes met the curious gaze of a great gray wolf.

From Jack the Giant-Killer:

Bu he took one step, and the ground fell away beneath him, and he tumbled, OOF, into Jack’s giant-trap. Jack stepped up smartly and swung his shovel: WHANG.

From Rumpelstiltskin:

Away down a hole, away Down Below,
Never sorrow over milk that’s spilt! Spin
Around, go to ground, take a baby,
leave a crown,
Just a job o’ work to Rumpelstiltskin!

Whimsical and just the right amount of hair-raising, Three Classic Children’s Stories will make you look at these timeless storytelling treasures with new eyes, eyes that glimmer with Gorey’s signature inspired idiosyncrasy.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, courtesy Pomegranate. All rights reserved.

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04 APRIL, 2012

Edward Gorey’s Donald Illustrations

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A boy, a monster, and a loving mid-century collaboration.

In September of 1968, author and editor Peter F. Neumeyer embarked upon a thirteen-month collaboration with the inimitable Edward Gorey — mid-century illustrator extraordinaire, grim alphabetician, irony connoisseur, tongue-in-cheek pornographer. Their remarkable illustrated correspondence tackled topics as diverse ad metaphysics and pancake recipes, but focused primarily on the three books at the heart of their collaboration. The third book, Why We Have Day and Night, was released last year and was among the year’s best children’s books. The first two are now out as a boxed set for the first time in The Donald Boxed Set: Donald and the . . . & Donald Has a Difficulty — a lovely duo of smyth-sewn casebound books in a beautiful slip-case, brimming with Gorey’s signature black-and-white illustrations of eccentric characters and strange creatures.

The Donald series was supposed to go on forever. Neumeyer reminisces:

Gorey writing me at one point, ‘I have just purchased lots of pristine new file folders. They await such things as… revised Donalds, new Donalds, new Lionels [another series], what else?’ Another time, he wrote that ‘[M]y mind’s eye sees a shelf of Neumeyer/Gorey works. Will Harvard have a room devoted to our memorabilia? It had better.’

But the perpetual Donald never quite manifested. Neumeyer writes wistfully:

The unending series never came to be, though shortly before his death, Ted once again returned to Donald. How far he got, only perusal of his vast legacy of papers would show.

Ted slipped away, a good, kind man of very specific genius. As I roam my bookshelves today, I can reconstruct some of the enthusiasms of that most generous of friends — a few of the many books he insisted on sending me so we could talk about them: Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave and The Rock Pool; four volumes of Haiku, translated b R. H. Blyth; L. H. Myers’s The Near and the Far; Raymond Queneau’s The Blue Flowers and Exercises in Style; Flann O’Brien’s The Best of Myles; Rayner Heppenstall’s The Greater Infortune; The Journal of Jules Renard (edited and translated by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Roget); and a beautiful giant Abrams book on Pisanello — and many, many more.

Heaven would be to resume those conversations.

More than a treat for young readers, The Donald Boxed Set is an exquisite piece of Gorey memorabilia and a delightful embodiment a warm, inspired collaboration, the whimsical layers of which unfold in Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer — one of the 11 best art and design books of 2011.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.

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