Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Edward Gorey’

12 MARCH, 2013

The Green Beads: Edward Gorey and the “Disturbed Person”

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“How it knocks my heart!”

Mid-century illustrator extraordinaire Edward Gorey has a wealth of gems under his belt — his legendary grim alphabet, exquisite letters, illustrations for H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, fairy tale adaptations, naughty adult entertainment, and then some. But hardly do any of Gorey’s magnificent stories get more tender, heartening, and heartbreaking than The Green Beads (public library). Originally published in 1978 as a limited edition of 426 signed copies — 400 numbered copies for sale and 26 lettered A-Z reserved for Gorey’s inner circle — it tells the story of Little Tancred who, en route to the store to buy tapioca, meets “a disturbed person whose sex is unclear, wearing a string of green beads around “its” neck. A characteristically grim adventure involving the beads ensues.

But what makes the book particularly poignant is that it’s hard not to see a piece of Gorey himself — old, eccentric, a defiant spirit and sensitive soul, an oft-speculated gay man — in the Disturbed Person, whom only Little Tancred truly sees and who inhabits that elusive neverland between the real and the imagined.

I was fortunate enough to hunt down one of the surviving copies — number 136, to be precise — and have preserved it here for shared enjoyment:

Complement The Green Beads with the charming The Shrinking of Treehorn and consider supporting the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust with a donation to the Edward Gorey House.

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22 FEBRUARY, 2013

Edward Gorey’s Vintage Illustrations for H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds

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Two classic masters of the macabre and wonderful, together.

Beloved mid-century illustrator Edward Goreygrim alphabetician, masterful letter-writer, dispenser of visual snark, semi-secret sort-of-pornographer — was born on this day in 1925. During his seven-year stint living in New York City between 1953 and 1960, he worked at the Doubleday art department — which also employed young Andy Warhol — and illustrated a number of books by famous mainstream authors, including the T. S. Eliot children’s book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, on which the Broadway musical Cats is based.

At the end of his time at Doubleday, Gorey illustrated a special edition of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (public library) for the celebrated Looking Glass Library series, published in 1960 under the New York Review of Books Classics imprint. One of Gorey’s inimitable pen-and-ink drawings adorns the beginning of each chapter. Here is a taste:

The War of the Worlds, like all things Gorey, is sublime in its entirety. And what better excuse than his birthday for celebrating his life and legacy by supporting the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust with a donation to the Edward Gorey House?

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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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