I’ve been a fan of Edward Gorey’s macabre little books since my friend Peter introduced me to the Gashlycrumb Tinies back in high school. Gorey drew twisted little figures in a creepy mirror of the bored and insulated world of New England’s idle rich. From the bizarre penguin-like creature in tennis shoes who shows up for dinner in “The Doubtful Guest,” to poor Millicent Frastley abducted in the dark of night to be sacrificed to “The Insect God,” he managed to evoke a frightening and wonderful world that seemed to spring from disturbing childhood daydreams.
He was an eccentric cat-lover who wore an ankle-length raccoon coat and tennis shoes, and is likely most famous for designing the gothic animation sequence to PBS’s “Mystery!” series and the stage design for the play of “Dracula,” starring Frank Langella. His figures have a wispy quality, as if they sprung from the infamous Puritan gravestones littering New England warning the living that all flesh is grass, and God is firing up the Toro any moment now.
His house is everything one might expect. It looks perfectly normal at first, but something is off. It is about to be devoured by an enormous Southern Magnolia tree overtaking the backyard, a plant that shouldn’t even be able to survive, much less thrive, on the deltoid of Cape Cod’s atrophied bicep. The cut-out of a plump tabby in a sweater welcomes you, and a wrought iron “Doubtful Guest” tiptoes through the back yard, strangled with vines, like a living topiary beast. Fans and friends have decorated his yard with all sorts of homages to his work, such as tombstones to the Gashlycrumb Tinies and an enormous sperm whale painted with his work.
The house itself is crammed with the odd ephemera he collected, from old cheese graters to matchbooks, with shelves and walls plastered with his work. The Tinies are immortalized in a scavenger hunt game, with all 26 of the ghastly alphabet undoings hidden around the house- from poor Basil assaulted by bears, to Nevile, who died of ennui, peering from a hidden window. The museum is run by fans and friends of the late Mr. Gorey, who keep his twee and morbid spirit alive. I purchased a few books and gifts in the gift shop, and a delightful print that I plan to hang over my bookcase, which reads “Some Things Are Scary.”
Words to live by. Some things are scary, and we delight in the thrill of seeing them from a safe distance. In Gorey’s tales, we get uncomfortably close to twisted people and banal horrors. While the Addams Family were the odd ones on the block, Gorey’s world mirrored our own in that something scary was just beneath the surface.