when the world was young: edward gorey

The latest in a series about influences from my earlier days

It’s Halloween, so let’s get spooky.  Lots of my friends are fans of director Tim Burton, known for his dark visual style and movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (which I reviewed here), and many others.  But Burton doesn’t do much for me, because I grew up reading Edward Gorey.

Gorey was an author and artist whose work is hard to categorize.  He wrote lots of short books and pieces, most of them stories, many of them wordless drawings.  Some could be enjoyed by children, a few were definitely adults-only (“The Curious Sofa” comes to mind). Much of his work is seemingly set in Edwardian times, and all of them were illustrated in his distinctive, extremely-dense style, usually in black and white.


My favorite pieces can be found in Amphigorey, a collection of his works from 1953-1965.  They include:

  • “The Unstrung Harp,” detailing the struggles of an author to write and publish a novel (something I can readily identify with!);


  • “The Listing Attic,” a series of macabre limericks;
  • “The Doubtful Guest,” about an odd, troublesome, but somehow endearing creature who invites himself into a family’s home;


  • “The Object Lesson,” a nonsense story (“It was already Thursday, but his lordship’s artificial limb could not be found”);
  • “The Bug Book,” a humorous tale of how a group of peace-loving insects (all cousins) deal with a bullying intruder;


  • “The Hapless Child,” a heartbreaking tale of an orphan girl;
  • “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” an A-B-C primer and cautionary tale about small children who meet their premature ends in horrible ways (“A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil, assaulted by bears…”);


  • “The Insect God,” a horror tale concerning the abduction of young Millicent Frastley;
  • “The Wuggly Ump,” a nursery rhyme about a child-eating monster.


Gorey and his quirky, often humorous morbidness, and predilection for bizarre characters and creatures, was a big influence on my writing, particularly This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel I’m working on.  If you hadn’t heard about Edward Gorey before, check out some of his work.


Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in early 2017.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

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