Edward Gorey (1925-2000) was an American illustrator and writer, chiefly remembered for his illustrated books. Once you've seen a bit of Gorey's work, it becomes instantly recognizable. His books are full of rich, strange characters. Pipe-thin men and women in fancy dress, cats in clothing, fantastical, mythical creatures (including one that looks like a cheerful leech with butterfly wings), treacherous villains and much, much more. One of his earliest and strangest creatures was The Doubtful Guest, a moody and stubborn creature that resembled a furry penguin in high-top sneakers and a striped scarf.

Not unlike Roald Dahl, Gorey was another author whose books seemed to embrace dark subjects, and assume a maturity and capability in his audience, despite being aimed at children. And the result was a unique blend of childlike silliness and stark bleakness – drawings and premises were ridiculous and fanciful one moment, then by turns utterly devoid of hope.  For every happy, healthy child in the Gorey universe, many more were wan and waifish orphans wasting away on their sickbeds.

Perhaps his most famous piece of writing/illustration is the gloriously gruesome poem The Gashlycrumb Tinies, which is an alphabet of terrible fates befalling children.  "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil assaulted by bears…"  the deaths are described in gleefully ghoulish rhyme, and run the gamut from  the visceral - "sucked dry by a leech" to the thoughtful – "who died of ennui". While the subject matter is so horrid as to make the poem sound macabre, the rhyme combined with Gorey's art results in a strangely delightful outcome. Grisly, but clever and funny – a guilty pleasure. I first came across it in poster format hanging on the back of a door somewhere, and fell in love with the intricacies of the work and sophistication of the drawings, while the subject matter was so irreverent. I set about investigating who this Edward Gorey was, and added a few pieces of his to my library - the compendiums Amphigorey, Amphigorey Too and Amphigorey Also, as well as The Epiplectic Bicycle and a fantastic Dracula toy theater with die-cut characters - Gorey won awards for his costume and set design for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula.

Continue reading about Edward Gorey's Eerie Glory after the books.