The Gashlycrumb Tinies

by Edward Gorey

Cover image

Publisher: Harcourt Brace
Copyright: 1963
Printing: 1997
ISBN: 0-15-100308-4
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 26

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The cover features a small passle of very polite, well-dressed children looked over by Death, who is carrying a black umbrella. There is one page for each letter and each child. On every page, a child dies.

This delightful tiny book is elegant in its understated simplicity. There is no explanation, no background, only the cryptic subtitle of or, After the Outing and Gorey's beautifully detailed and darkly shaded line drawings. Each page features a cherubic youngster, often in miniature suits, dresess, or other upper-class clothing, white-faced, the center of the drawing but somehow overwhelmed by it. And the rhyming dactylic couplets, one line per picture, are hypnotically effective.

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
B is for Basil assaulted by bears

The rhythm of the language pulls you through the book; the detail and macabre horror (or, more often, implication of horror) of the drawings makes one linger on each page. As a poem alone, it would be amusing and memorable; as a set of pictures, it's an admirable and weird collection. Together, it's well worth paying thirty-five cents a page.

I notoriously dislike children, so I take pure delight in the subject matter, but even without that inclination, this is a wonderful little book. Gorey's art is exceptional. Each picture seems simple but reveals detail of technique on closer examination. Most of the images show no direct violence, only a promise of violence to come. In some cases, that promise is very subtle, revealed only when one reads the accompanying line. But Gorey doesn't settle into patterns; at several points through the collection of endangered, risk-taking, oblivious children, Gorey shows one moment of violence in progress and one instance of the aftermath. He surprises you just when you've settled into the pattern.

This is a brilliant volume that succeeds at multiple levels simultaneously. It's deliciously ambiguous, borrowing the style of a reading primer with material that would shock anyone who produces children's pablum, but which I would have found delightful as a kid. The couplets stick in your head, and the images of woeful children and unseen risk are perfectly on the cusp between humor and horror. Find this one and read through it, several times. You won't be disappointed.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-10-19

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21