By Maureen Tai, 31 March 2018
“N is for NEVILLE who died of ennui.” – Edward Gorey
The Gashycrumb Tinies has black and white pictures of children in it and sparse, rhyming text ordered alphabetically, so I suppose it could be categorized as a child’s alphabet picture book. Except it describes, with a hint of delicious glee, the unexpected ways in which 26 small defenceless children come to their (sometimes macabre) ends.
“A is for AMY who fell down the stairs,
B is for BASIL assaulted by bears…”
… and so on and so forth until poor ZILLAH who expires from the liberal over-consumption of gin.
I discovered Edward Gorey (1925 – 2000) when I was a university student in Toronto, poking about second-hand bookstores on Yonge Street, looking for out-of-print Bukowski novels. Instead, I found a battered copy of The Epiplectic* Bicycle, which was so disarmingly odd as to pique my curiosity about this unusual author and illustrator.
I was rewarded by the discovery of Gorey’s rich collection of pen-and-ink works, including The Gashycrumb Tinies, all of which extended beyond the rules of convention and from which I learnt such useful words such as “awl” (the pointy instrument that caused OLIVE’s demise), “lye” (which did JAMES in) and – my personal favourite – “ennui” (to which poor NEVILLE succumbed).
Anna and Ben have both thumbed through my slim copy of TGT and neither have been traumatized by its contents. They do remember how KATE died however, and are careful to avoid her page.
Recommended to ages 8 and up, in particular fans of (1) Tim Burton, and (2) the Edwardian and Victorian eras.
* As an aside, another Gorey fan who was more dedicated than I am, has noted that “Epiplectic is a form of the word epiplexis: a Greek word which means to chide or shame someone into better behavior.” (thank you, Goreyana).