Friday, February 27, 2009

The Epiplectic Bicycle

In 1969, Edward Gorey published The Epiplectic Bicycle through Dodd, Mead & Company. The first edition of this hardcover book with matching dust wrapper is only distinguishable from the second printing by the price on the dust wrapper - 1st printings have a printed price of $3.00, second printings $3.95. Therefore, early copies with the price clipped dust wrapper cannot be called "true firsts" by the persnickety collector.

This title is included in Amphigorey Also, and is currently available as an individual reprint in hardcover. There have been several reprints of this title over the years, and the cover illustration was used on a tee shirt (see the photo at the bottom of this post). My first edition copy is signed and inscribed by Mr. Gorey. There is slight fading to the dust jacket. This book was obviously once stacked in a sunny area under books, and some fading occurred at the edges.

I am often asked which Gorey book is my favorite, and The Epiplectic Bicycle is it! From the "prologue" which reads, "It was the day after Tuesday and the day before Wednesday.", to the bicycle's final gasp of "Indeed!" this book is a perfectly faceted gem. We ride along with siblings Embley and Yewbert on a bicycle which has a purpose all its own. Each turn of the page is a revelation, with story and illustrations edited to the bare essentials so that what you experience is a clockwork-perfect blend of image and text.

Edward Gorey had a vocabulary that rivals the dictionary, and the title of this book is a perfect example. What does "Epiplectic" mean? Mr. Gorey presents us with this obscure word, but does not specify. The reader's first response is to say, "Oh, he made that up", but that is not the correct answer. To find out involves research (much easier now that we have the internet), with the ultimate gratification of having better understood the story though learning something new. Epiplectic is a form of the word epiplexis: a Greek word which means to chide or shame someone into better behavior. (As I say, the internet makes this easier. For more information about this word go to: ).

While ordering a pizza at a local take-out last summer, I had a surprise to find the alligator/bicycle from the cover riding up the forearm of the young woman who was serving me! She had the image prominently tattooed on her arm in full color, and was somewhat surprised that I knew where the image came from. A search on the internet has revealed that many people have adapted Gorey's images into tattoos. I love EG's work, but have yet to have it tattooed on my body!

1 comment:

Aritul said...

Thanks for the definition of epiplectic. I had a time finding it.