Review by Woodrow Phoenix
The majority of Edward Gorey’s intensely atmospheric books produced between 1953 and 1980 have been reprinted in three large collections, Amphigorey (1972), Amphigorey Too (1975), and Amphigorey Also (1983). This fourth volume collects items remaining after the author’s death in 2000. It features illustrations, stories and two previously unpublished works, The Admonitory Hippopotamus and La Malle Saignante. A third and final unpublished piece, The Izzard Book, is unfinished.
The 28 pieces here vary in style from thickly cross-hatched to delicate, open linework, and in length from a single page illustration to book-length stories. Among Gorey’s regular clients were The New York Times Magazine and The New York Review of Books, but there is no information here on where the newspaper and magazine features appeared. Twelve works in this volume are in colour, beginning with the opening illustration ‘Frivolity, at the edge of a Moral Swamp, hears Hymn-Singing in the Distance and dons the Galoshes of Remorse.’ ‘Signs of Spring’, ‘Seasonal Confusion’, and ‘Random Walk‘ are one-page, four-panel stories.
‘Category’ is fifty drawings of the cat that often appeared in Gorey’s work. ‘The Other Statue’ is a thirty page story of theft and misadventure in a country house. It’s part of a series entitled ‘The Secrets’, and a final drawing promises the next in the series, ‘The Night Bandage’ to follow soon. ’10 Impossible Objects’ is a page of sketches, and ‘The Universal Solvent’ looks like thumbnails for a larger story. ‘Scenes de Ballet’ is six pages of annotated drawings.
‘Verse Advice’ is colour drawings and rhyming couplets: “It’s possible to pick up crumbs / By pressing on them with the thumbs.” ‘The Deadly Blotter’ is ‘Thoughtful Alphabet XVII’. ‘Creativity’ is eight drawings of elephants. ‘The Retrieved Locket’ is a short tragic episode, ‘The Water Flowers’ a sixteen page tale involving a dinner of white sauce. ‘The Haunted Tea Cosy’ and ‘The Headless Bust’ are two stories in colour that both feature Edward Spigot, a recluse who is tormented by a giant insect, the Bahum Bug. ‘The Just Dessert’ is ‘Thoughtful Alphabet XI’ although quite a few letters are missing.
‘The Admonitory Hippopotamus: or Angelica and Sneezeby’ has one drawing accompanying a text story. This was mentioned as being in production back in the first volume of Amphigorey, so perhaps Gorey intended other drawings to accompany the text. It’s an amusingly circular tale, and very quotable: “The hippopotamus attracted her attention from the back of a pantechnicon. ‘Fly at once!’ he said. ‘All is discovered.’ ” It works perfectly well without illustrations. ‘Neglected Murderesses’ is ten drawings in the ‘Dogear Wyrde postcard’ series, and so are ‘Tragédies Topiaries’.
‘The Raging Tide: or The Black Doll’s Imbroglio’ is a thirty page choose-your-own-adventure story. ‘The Unknown Vegetable’ is a cautionary tale. ‘Random Walk’ and ‘Serious Life: A Cruise’ are very short vignettes. ‘Figbash: Acrobate’ is drawings forming an alphabet which will no doubt be turned into a Gorey Typeface by someone one day.
‘La Malle Saignante, Les Mystéres de Constantinople’ is a beautifully drawn sequence of images which are a homage to early French silent films. The characters find themselves in dangerous situations, explained by captions in both English and French beneath the pictures.
Finally, The Izzard Book is a collection of 21 curious or significant things beginning with the letter Z. The first few are complete drawings, and then partly finished sketches, and the last two frames are empty.
This concluding volume of Edward Gorey’s work will be essential reading for fans who have enjoyed his previous books. Anyone new to his work will find plenty to interest them here, but it’s much better to start with one of the other collections.