Wednesday, October 24

13 Days of Halloween: The Gashlycrumb Tinies

Or, After the Outing  
by Edward Gorey
Simon & Schuster 1963 

A ghastly little abecedarian for hip little children... who might just happen to be teens or adults with a sense of humor.

I think this one is best explained by example.

You can probably figure out how the rest of this plays out. Twenty-six children, each with their own half of a dactylic couplet to explain their demise. With his signature illustration style and Victorian sensibilities, Gorey's alphabet poked a sarcastic finger through the overly-protective world of childhood where everything was still see-spot-run and friendly neighbors just down the street and around the corner in classroom readers. It might also be worth noting that the year this was originally published, 1963, was also the same year that brought us Where the Wild Things Are. Change and revolution was in the air and children's books were poised to enter a new era.

It's interesting to think that a book like this would hardly raise a fuss if released today. Picture books are full of subversive humor and tacit violence – ahem, I Want My Hat Back – but Gorey's approach is the reverse of what we see. Where we might have text and image imply some unsavory off-stage happenings Gorey is quite content to lay out precisely what has happened to the poor children and managed to capture them at the moment just before they realized their demise was at hand.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s a high school bedroom or college dorm wall was as likely to have a poster version of The Gashlycrumb Tinies (still very much available, and inexpensive) as it might a Kliban cat, Bo Derek, or A Clockwork Orange poster. Where popular culture continues to march on,leaving some detritus in its wake, I think the resurgence (or recent dominance) of darkness in entertainment makes a Gorey renaissance inevitable. And why not?

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