Friday, December 12, 2014

Edward Gorey's Robots

Robots appear in illustrations throughout Edward Gorey's career. As a child and early teen in the 1930's, young Edward would have spent Saturday afternoons playing with friends and going to the movies. Movie serials became part of the Saturday afternoon theater experience in the mid-30's, with weekly installments of thrilling adventures, each ending in a cliffhanger for the hero or heroine. Many of these serials included futuristic themes with robots who were sent to do the bidding of a diabolical fiend. This was even true for the cowboy serials featuring Gene Autry!

In 1961, Edward Gorey illustrated Scrap Irony, the first of three collections of verse by Felicia Lampert. The robot featured on page 25 appears to be a cross between a piece of furniture and a robot. As with robots in the movie serials, this metal creation is supposed to be helpful, but is really thinking for itself and plotting against its inventor.
While almost all of the robots in the serial films were malevolent, Mr. Gorey's mechanical creatures tend to be helpful. Mr. Gorey also appears to stonghly associate robots with the Christmas season. Perhaps he was given a cherished toy robot as a child for Christmas. Whatever the reason, robots appear with frequency on his holiday cards.

One of Mr. Gorey's earliest Christmas robots appears to be conflicted as to whether it wants to be helpful or not. Created in the 1950's, this robot arrives at a remote location where a 1920's flapper has been chained to a rock - but who has chained her there, the robot? The robot gives a cheery "Merry Christmas" and comes bearing gifts in each of its four outstretched arms. Is this a joyous rescue for the heroine, or the cliffhanger to this weeks installment? Will a flaming Plum Pudding really help her out of her situation?
Theater on the Bay's 1993 holiday theatrical production of Blithering Christmas features a helpful robot on the program and souvenir button. It can also be noted that Edward Gorey associates alligators with the Holiday Season. In both Blithering Christmas images, the robot is being assisted by a large reptile to help the small girl. In another image, this same pair appears alongside a small boy, each taking photos of a forlorn Christmas Tree. This helpful reptile also appears without the robot on other Christmas cards.

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