The Melancholy Deaths of Edward Gorey's Children
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:
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:
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").
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.
These are the first and last panels of The Pious Infant, a strange and morbid little tale:
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:
This is perhaps Gorey's darkest panel, also from The Fatal Lozenge: