Here in the dead of August, I know we're all dreaming of the cooler, crisper, and- let’s be honest- spookier months of fall ahead of us. There's really no better way to get into the spooky spirit than with the work of author and illustrator Edward Gorey. If you’ve ever wanted to dive into Gorey’s bibliography, “Amphigorey” is the perfect place to start.
Originally published in 1972, “Amphigorey” is a collection of 15 stories written and illustrated by Gorey between 1953 and 1965. As the author explains in a note at the start of the book, the title comes from the word amphigory, meaning a nonsense verse or composition. This is an apt description for the work that follows, as Gorey’s books certainly contain their fair share of nonsense. Gorey is most known for crafting delightfully macabre picture books in his signature pen and ink style. These stories are inhabited by swooning ingénues, mysterious men with shifty eyes, and children in all sorts of perilous situations. It’s easy to get lost in Gorey’s densely cross-hatched illustrations, which are accompanied by descriptions of his characters’ misadventures and certain dooms.
My favorites include “The Hapless Child,” in which a Victorian orphan falls into increasingly dire circumstances; “The Willowdale Handcar,” which follows a trio on a bizarre cross-country journey; and “The Doubtful Guest,” about a strange little creature who turns one family’s household upside down. “Amphigorey” also contains one of Gorey’s most iconic works, “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” an alphabet book in which each letter is represented by the grim (and often darkly hilarious) demise of a different child. Gorey’s stories never fail to make the reader feel equal parts delighted and uneasy. His explorations into surrealism, such as “The Object-Lesson” and “The West Wing,” will leave the reader with more questions than answers. Amphigorey is the perfect collection of stories to peruse before bed, perhaps with a cup of warm tea and a nighttime snack. Though do be warned: you may find your dreams filled with fantods and Wuggly Umps.