The Pumpkin Spice Lattés are afoot. Hocus Pocus is on the television. Candy is everywhere you look. That can only mean we’re deep into October, and all we’re in the mood for is the ghoulish, the spooky, and, the pumpkin-spiced.
If ever there were an author for October, it’s Edward Gorey, the prolific writer and illustrator of unsettling tales of Victorian and Edwardian misfortune. Nothing illustrates his distinctive, delightfully morbid style better than The Gashlycrumb Tinies, who treat us to a tour of the alphabet by being killed in progressively bizarre ways. (From “A is for AMY who fell down the stairs,” to “Z is for ZILLAH who drank too much gin.”)
As The Toast’s guide to whether or not you are actually in a Gorey novel puts it, “your fondest family memories involve the moors, and the faintest sense of dread.” Hooray! While Gorey left us with an immense catalog of his works—my personal favorite is The Willowdale Handcar—you might still be looking for some supplements to get you through this creepy, kooky month. In that spirit, here are some picks that keep it grim and Gorey.
The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories, by Tim Burton
I firmly believeTim Burton has some Gorey somewhere in his DNA. The influence is never more apparent than in this illustrated book of poetry that introduces a grotesque group of oddballs like The Pin Cushion Queen, The Boy With Nails in His Eyes, and, of course, Oyster Boy, whose death comes at the hands of his own parents’ appetites. It’s a real pick-me-up.
Cautionary Tales for Children, by Hilaire Belloc
Parodying the moral tales so prevalent in the 1800s, Belloc’s turn-of-the-century work includes 11 stories of the woes of wretched children, like Rebecca, “who slammed doors for fun and perished miserably.” Later illustrated anew by Gorey himself, this sharp-witted collection is a natural fit for any fan. And maybe, just maybe, these stories will keep us all from chewing bits of string and dying in dreadful agony.
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Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
While it differs slightly in tone—and certainly in length—from Gorey’s works, there’s something undeniably creepy about Rigg’s peculiar, photo-stocked series. And it certainly hits all the right notes when it comes to oddball children and the terrible things that happen to them. Told through vintage photographs and the perspective of 16-year-old Jacob, we unravel the mystery of an abandoned orphanage, seemingly stuck out of time, and of its inhabitants’ assorted strange powers.
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
Coraline stumbles through a door in her new house to find a version of the life she left behind—strangely similar to , but seemingly better. Her discovery of Other Mother, Other Father, and their pastures of plenty is the fodder of a cautionary tale in and of itself, but Gaiman doesn’t merely dabble in darkness. His version of macabre relies on the light as well, and Coraline has to use her wits to return herself and her world to buttonless-eyed normality. (For extra creep factor—again, buttons for eyes!—check out the graphic novel version.)
Heap House, by Edward Carey
One look at the book covers in Carey’s Iremonger series, and you’ll know you’re in the right place. The story of Clod Iremonger has all the hallmarks of antique moroseness as Gorey’s work, with a touch of mystery. That’s to be expected from a novel centered on a family whose mansion rests upon heaps of garbage, oddities, and forgotten relics. While each Iremonger is assigned an object they identify with, Clod has it worst of all, in that he can actually listen to these objects, and they’re doing more than whispering.