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The Melancholy Deaths of Edward Gorey's Children

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Legendary author-illustrator Edward Gorey -- most famous for animating the timeless intro to PBS' Mystery! -- never had any children of his own, though he drew plenty of them. Delving into his complete works for a project recently, it dawned on me how my impression of this prolific writer had been cemented by my familiarity with just one or two of his books -- like The Gashleycrumb Tinies, a deliciously morbid, alphabetical catalog of 26 children's deaths. As it turns out, this is fairly representative of the fates of children throughout Gorey's work -- they nearly always meet a tragic end. Having gone through most of his books over the weekend, I wanted to share some of Gorey's most striking (and sometimes shocking) panels involving kids -- many of them creepier and more morbid than I had ever given Gorey credit for being.

We'll start off with a classic, from the much-beloved Gasheycrumb Tinies:
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Can you imagine a contemporary cartoon book depicting an axe-murdered child like this? In some ways, our culture has become much more permissive since Gashleycrumb was written in the early 60s; but these days unspeakable things happening to children seems a rarely-crossed taboo. (Also, the fact that Gorey channels a 19th century aesthetic probably allows him to get away with more of this than if his style were modern -- what with the memento mori and general morbidness of the Victorian era, tragically-killed children don't seem so out of place.)

From The Willowdale Handcar, this haunting image:
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The following two are from The Fatal Lozenge, another of Gorey's alphabetical catalogs -- in this case, the object of each panel is the letter that progresses alphabetically ("Orphan" and "Zouave").
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The Hapless Child is the tragic story of a little orphaned girl who runs away from the mistresses at her cruel boarding school, only to be kidnapped and sold to "a brute" who makes her his slave. She escapes, on the brink of death, and is run down and killed in the street -- by a wagon driven by her father, who's back from the war, the rumors of his demise greatly exaggerated.
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These are the first and last panels of The Pious Infant, a strange and morbid little tale:
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The Beastly Baby is the story of the world's fattest, noisiest and most loathsome baby (which perhaps explains, apart from his being gay, why Gorey never had any of his own). His treatment of Beastly is pitiless:
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This is perhaps Gorey's darkest panel, also from The Fatal Lozenge:
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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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