Brain Pickings

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

“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.

Published March 12, 2013




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