Monday, December 21, 2009

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

It seems inevitable that Edward Gorey would one day illustrate Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (OPBoPC) by T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965). The pairing of Mr. Gorey's signature felines and Mr. Eliot's poetry is a match that was destined to occur.

Mr. Eliot wrote the poems in the 1930's and included them in letters to his godchildren, to whom he wrote in the guise of "Old Possum". Collected together and published as OPBoPC in 1939, the first edition was printed with a cover design by Old Possum himself (the book shown to the right is not in my collection). The collection underwent several printings and has been illustrated by Nicolas Bently (1940), Edward Gorey (1982), Errol Le Cain (1986 & 1990),and Alex Scheffler (2009).

In 1981, the Andrew Lloyd Weber/T.S.Eliot musical Cats (with additional lyrics by Trevor Nunn) opened in London and one year later on Broadway. It became the longest running musical of its day, only to be outdistanced by that other Lloyd Weber/Don Black creation, The Phantom of the Opera.

The renewed interest in the OPBoPC poems generated by the musical produced a strong interest in republishing the text in a newly illustrated volume. Edward Gorey was the perfect illustrator to undertake the project. His illustrations are humorous and witty and perfectly capture the playfulness of the cats in the poems.

The first Gorey-illustrated hardcover edition of Old Possom's Book of Practical Cats (pictured left) was published in 1982 by Harcourt Brace Janovich. The book has an illustrated dust jacket and interior illustrations. In 1982, a paperback version of the book was printed (pictured right). The book proved to be popular and the first printing quickly sold out, instituting a second (also in 1982) and many subsequent printings. It can be difficult to find true first printings of the Gorey-illustrated edition which state "First Edition / A B C D E F G H I J". Both copies shown are first/firsts.

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