Edward Gorey’s enigmatic work is not for young children but it may well appeal to teenagers (as well as to adults of course). In The West Wing this American artist’s dark, closely hatched pen-and-ink illustrations of rooms inside an old house invite more questions than answers. Readers feel they are only getting small hints of a much bigger story, brief glimpses into strange other-worldly lives and impossible spaces.
For instance who are the owners of the shoes we see lying on the floor? Why are there three shoes on the floor rather than the more likely two or four, and why have they been abandoned?
In the picture with two open doors separated by a corridor, where do the doors lead to? Could there be someone lurking just inside the further door, and might that person be welcoming or threatening? We have no way of knowing.
Who is the man sitting on a stool with his top hat on the floor beside him? Could it be the eccentric Gorey himself, known for wearing a fur coat? And who is the person in a long skirt that we see disappearing through the doorway, half-glimpsed only in the mirror?
Some images suggest floods or sea level rises, or even earthquakes that have caused great cracks to appear in the floor. Maybe a mysterious natural disaster has resulted in the house’s usual human inhabitants deserting it suddenly. Again it can only be our supposition, nothing is revealed clearly.
Moody, atmospheric and witty, these pictures can make the reader’s mind buzz with potential interpretations. Because they offer no obvious answers, the images stay in the mind as teasers, suggestions for what might have been, or what could be in the future.
With more than 100 works to his name, Edward St John Gorey (1925-2000) was the master of this sort of quirky, provocative and dark humour. The wordless The West Wing is a great introduction to this unusual and talented artist.