Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Enormous Wood, An Unfinished Tale

 Over his long career, Edward Gorey began and then abandoned many book projects. Fortunately for fans and scholars of his work, Mr. Gorey did not discard these partially completed stories, but instead filed them away for possible completion at a later date. One such project is The Enormous Wood, a story Mr. Gorey was working on in 1963. The Enormous Wood is a tale about a sister and brother who are told to go out for a walk by their mother, who was feeling unwell. Unfortunately, the weather becomes threatening as the children head for the Enormous Wood, a place they had never been before. That is as far as the story progressed when it was set aside for possible future completion.

For The Enormous Wood, Edward Gorey left behind five pieces of artwork, three of which are finished drawings and two that remain incomplete. To date, a complete manuscript for the story has not been located but The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust is in the process of sorting and organizing the archives, so there is hope that it will turn up. (See Post Update Below)

The Enormous Wood has two unique features, the combination of which may have led to this tale remaining unfinished:

1) This story is told from a first person perspective. The signature style of Edward Gorey's writing is one of detachment and moral instruction. The actions and situations are described to the reader, but the stories are not narrated by a recognizable personality within the story itself. The reader can learn from the character's actions, but remains a detached bystander who is discouraged to have empathy with the protagonists. This makes the misfortunes of the characters humorous rather than disturbing since the reader is distanced from personal interaction with the parties involved. The Enormous Wood is a tale told by the girl, referring to herself as "I" and using "We" when describing her brother and herself.

2) The artwork for The Enormous Wood is unlike anything Edward Gorey created for his other books. The drawings for The Enormous Wood are created as two page spreads; with each turn of the page a new visual vista would open up and immediately strike the viewer with a sense of movement and danger. In a typical Gorey book the pace of the reader is reflective, each turn of the page revealing a single page vignette where the reader must pause before moving on. (Note: Mr. Gorey originally disliked the idea of the Amphigorey anthology because multiple pages from the books would be shown  at the same time, and not be experienced as originally intended.) 

These double page drawings are unique in that they have a sense of perspective that depicts the passage of time, and movement, showing the characters as they travel through the scene. If the artwork is viewed as individual pages, as per his usual style, the drawings become less threatening. Viewed as a single page drawing the "We left the house." side shows two children outside on a blustery rainy day. The text also makes the drawing less threatening.

The "We started walking..." side is far less ominous when viewed as a single image. When viewed together as a two page scene, the children are literally being overwhelmed by the storm which grows darker and larger from left to right as they become smaller. The children are shown at two distinct points in time within a single drawing. The darkness of the steps and lightness of the sky on the left represent the solid safety they are leaving while the upward tilt of the darkness on the right indicates the oppressive danger the children are heading towards. Viewed as single pages, the image(s) lose the sweeping movement of oncoming doom.

The other drawings from the book follow the same progression, with the right side plunging the children into further peril. The surviving fragments of this story are intriguing and it is disappointing that The Enormous Wood will never be completed. 

Thanks to the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust for the use of the image. 

Post Update: After posting this information I was contacted by actor/producer/photographer Kevin McDermott who appeared in the 1985 Edward Gorey production of Tinned Lettuce at NYU. He informed me that The Enormous Wood was used in the show with the new title The White Stone. As can be seen from my program, actors portrayed the wood itself in the play.

Carol Verburg, theatrical producer and author of two books on Edward Gorey's theatrical works on Cape Cod, also confirmed that The White Stone was performed as part of Useful Urns, Mr. Gorey's 1990 summer entertainment with the Provincetown Theater Company.

As presented on stage, it becomes obvious why Edward Gorey set the story aside in 1963 in book form. The complete tale is one of fratricide, and calmly told using the first person perspective it is a grisly affair. Revisiting the story as a theatrical piece 20 years later, Mr. Gorey added a narrator (dressed as a twin of the girl) and the tale was over in six minutes. I saw the production of Tinned Lettuce at NYU and honestly do not remember this story as standing out as being particularly shocking, so it did not have the disturbing quality (with me at any rate) that it would have had in book form.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Upcoming Book Auction


On November 13, Leslie Hindman Auctions in Chicago will auction the Edward Gorey collection of Thomas J. Barrett. The collection contains many limited edition and first edition books signed by Mr. Gorey. This auction represents the diligence of a true Gorey collector to acquire very fine examples over the span of years. Fewer auction houses are selling large Edward Gorey book collections these days, so this is an excellent opportunity to fill in gaps with beautiful books. There is also a selection of limited edition etchings included in the sale.

For more information on the sale and to bid, go here: