The concept behind “The Gashlycrumb Tinies or, After the Outing,” by Edward Gorey, is brilliant in its simplicity. It consists of a series of rhymes about small children who suffer various macabre deaths. All the children have name beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, and their grim fates are arranged alphabetically by name. Each fate is also accompanied by one of Gorey’s awesome ink drawings. Sample lines: “E is for Ernest who choked on a peach. F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech. G is for George smothered under a rug. H is for Hector done in by a thug.”
This book hilarious. Gorey’s children have a proper Victorian look to them which makes their scenarios that much more bizarre. Most of the drawings show the unfortunate children just before their deaths only a few of the pictures actually show explicit death or violence, parental guidance not required.
One could read “Gashlycrumb Tinies” as an outrageous parody of children’s books, it’s a wicked delight.
Gorey is typically described as an illustrator. The Object Lesson have earned serious critical respect as works of surrealist art. His experimentations — creating books that were wordless, books that were literally matchbox-sized, pop-up books, books entirely populated by inanimate objects — complicates matters still further. As Gorey told Richard Dyer of The Boston Globe, “Ideally, if anything [was] any good, it would be indescribable.” Gorey classified his own work as literary nonsense, the genre made most famous by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.
In response to being called gothic, he stated, “If you’re doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there’d be no point. I’m trying to think if there’s sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children — oh, how boring, boring, boring. As Schubert said, there is no happy music. And that’s true, there really isn’t. And there’s probably no happy nonsense, either.”