Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Reader's Diary #125- Edward Gorey: Amphigorey (FINISHED)

After reading the second half of this collection, I can understand a little better the cult following of Gorey.

It is in this section you find the (in)famous "Gashlycrumb Tinies". For those unfamiliar with it, it's an alphabet book (you know, "'A' is for..." etc) with a twisted take. Basically each letter stands for a different child's name and their untimely demise, "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs" and so on. Dark, yes. But comical in a deranged way. It's not overly evil, the cartoonishness and silly rhymes never allows the reader (well, this reader anyway) to lose sight of the fact that it is all in jest. Something about his slightly pretentious, dated word choice, makes it all seem even sillier. My favourite is "N is Neville who died of ennui".

Another quality of Gorey's style that I enjoy, is his tendency to leave a lot up to the imagination. Some might say it's a lazy or even easy approach, but Gorey makes it part of the fun. In "The Curious Sofa" for instance, the final panel shows just a corner of the sofa with the caption, "When Alice saw what was about to happen, she began to scream uncontrollably..." The story that led up to it, and the ambiguous ending, provoke the reader into any number of vile possibilities of what the sofa actually does, but Gorey cleverly leaves it there. He really pushes the mysterious angle to its extreme in "The West Wing," a wordless story with pictures of rooms presumably in the west wing of some mansion. In almost every panel, the reader is left with a question, "Why are there three shoes on the floor?" "Why is one room filled with water?" "Who is that looking in the window?" and so on. The imagination goes into overload. Finally, I delighted in "The Sinking Spell" in which a mysterious something falls slowly from the sky and gradually makes its way through a roof, several floors, into the basement and out of sight. It is never shown and the reader is never told what it is. There's a Twilight Zonish air about the story that I absolutely loved.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

That sounds quite fascinating. It puts me in mind of the slightly unsettling artwork in Chris Van Alberg's books. Or the ambiguity of Radiohead's Just video.

kelli ann & lorie said...

hi john,

wishing you luck on your move up North. when i read your comment, i thought of passing on a link to 'spare the rock, spoil the child'-- a father/daughter radio show that rocks pretty hard...

except i don't know how to put a link in a comment (lame!)

John Mutford said...

I agree that Van Alsberg can have slightly unsettling artwork, though he's probably more subtle than Gorey. The ambiguity in the Just video, I agree (though I had to remind myself by watching it at YouTube). Apparently Nine Inch Nail's had a video that pays homage to Gorey as well, though I can't tell you which one it is.

Hi Kelli Ann,
I assume you're refering to the comment I made on your site about music and children. I feel like a hypocrit that you'd come here and see me blog about a Gorey book! But I won't be reading the "Gashlycrumb Tinies" to my kids any day soon!

John Mutford said...

I just discovered Tomi Ungerer's Crictor and was convinced it had written by Gorey under a pseudonym. The cartooning is EXTREMELY similar and while Crictor is a little more child-friendly, it does have a slightly dark side (there's a burgular that ties up the lady of the house at knife point).