The 7 Most Ghoulish Edward Gorey Stories

Edward Gorey is one of the most fantastical, creepy, and beloved illustrators in American history. Now, with the release of today’s trailer for Eli Roth’s upcoming The House with a Clock in Its Walls–an adaptation of a book by John Bellairs, with illustrations by Gorey–the illustrator’s unique and wonderful gothic sensibilities will likely reach an entirely new audience. Gorey was vastly talented artist who made his name illustrating a wide variety of books including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, while also creating his own macabre short works which gained a huge following of young children. To celebrate Gorey, we’ve selected seven of his most gruesome and great stories for your perusing pleasure.

The Gashlycrumb Tinies

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

Probably one of Gorey’s most well known works, this is an alphabet book with a twist as Gorey takes a lot of delight in describing the gruesome fates of the Gashlycrumb tinies. This is a truly splendid gothic treat that showcases Gorey’s bleak humor, vast imagination, and incredible illustrations. A wonderful treat for the morbidly curious among us.

The Insect God

“O what has become of Millicent Frastley? Is there any hope that she’s still alive? Why haven’t they found her? It’s rather ghastly to think that the child was not yet five.”

Part of a series of stories to warn children about potential hazards, The Insect God is a spooky stranger danger story in the tradition of Shockheaded Peter. Young Millicent is playing in the fields when she’s drawn away by some creepy insectoid creatures with the lure of candy. A great example of Gorey’s talent for word play and atmosphere, the final reveal of Millicent’s ghoulish fate still gives us shivers to this day.

The West Wing

One of Gorey’s most lauded works, this silent story showcases a haunting building and the creepy goings on within. A masterful piece of silent cartooning, The West Wing is a wickedly atmospheric tale that gives the reader the space to truly appreciate Gorey’s uniquely gothic aesthetic. And the incredible illustrations mean you can pore over this wordless work for hours.

The Iron Tonic: Or, A Winter Afternoon in Lonely Valley

“The monuments above the dead are too eroded to be read”

Another of Gorey’s great atmospheric works, this broad tale of a strange, isolated locale in which strange objects fall from the sky and young children die on the path is a total joy of ethereal, esoteric storytelling. As our narrator introduces us to the titular valley, we discover all kinds of mysteries and clues. But as with so many Gorey stories, no answers, just haunting rhyming couplets and simple yet dazzling illustrations.

The Haunted Tea-Cosy: A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas

“He was hardly able to cut a slice of fruitcake from the last one he had received almost a decade ago.”

Gorey’s gorgeous and grisly retelling of A Christmas Carol is one of his simplest and most striking works, as Edmund Gravel has a Christmas Eve snack, and is visited by three spirits. Guided by the Bahum Bug–who’s literally an insect–this Kafka-esqe anti-Christmas tale is a riot. Gorey’s illustrations have rarely suited a story better.

The Headless Bust: A Melancholy Meditation on the False Millennium

“Reversing at a tango tea, In Snogg’s Casino-not-on-Sea, L– tripped and cried, ‘I am afraid They tampered with the marmalade.'”

Edmund and the Bahum Bug return to celebrate the New Year in this surreal and strange story focused on the oddities of the human condition. Leaning even further into the influence of Kafka, this is Gorey at his most abstract and it’s a pleasure to behold him truly embrace the nonsense literary tradition.

The Deranged Cousins, Or Whatever

“Seventy-nine years ago there were three cousins whose names were Rose Marshmary, Mary Rosemarsh, and Marsh Maryrose.”

This drearily delightful spin on Jean Cocteau’s The Holy Terrors follows three cousins living in a sprawling mansion next to a marsh, who slowly die at each others’ or their own hands. One of the few Gorey stories told in non-rhyming prose, The Deranged Cousins is a perfect short story that grips and thills as we move towards its inevitable end. Gorey’s illustrations bring the titular cousins and their desolate home to life perfectly.

Do you have a favorite Gorey story we’ve missed? Can’t wait to see Eli Roth take on YA gothic horror? Excited to explore the art of Edward Gorey? Let us know below!

Images: Bloomsbury, Harcourt Brace, Simon and Schuster, Peter Weed Books, Putnams and Sons.

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