Wednesday, June 5, 2013

BiblioFile: The House with a Clock in its Walls (1973)

The Goreyana blog has been – and continues to be – a great source for information about collecting the artwork of Edward Gorey. Back in 2009 the blog’s author, Irwin Terry, began a series of posts about the artwork Gorey created for the books by John Bellairs and those completed and continued by Brad Strickland. It took about two years to get through it all but in the end there was some splendid insights shared into a side of the books many were not familiar with. All said, Irwin was at the top of our list of people we wanted to hear from about which of Gorey's interior artwork created for the original edition of House was the best.


The House with a Clock in Its Walls (1973, Dial Press, New York) was John Bellairs' first book for young readers. This book would inspire a series which would go on to produce more than two dozen titles. Edward Gorey created illustrations for 21 of the stories, beginning with this first title. For House, Mr. Gorey created a wrap around dust jacket design, with images from the story sprinkled across the front and back covers, twelve full page illustrations, eleven chapter heading drawings, and three tiny spot pieces - more than he created for any other title in this book series. Of the twenty seven drawings created for this book, which are the the top five? While this must be a subjective list, I believe there were some top rate drawings created for House.

When rating a collection of drawings, there are several ideas to consider. Does the drawing elevate the experience of reading the book by stimulating the imagination of the viewer, or merely show a scene? If you saw the drawing outside the context of illustrating a text, is the piece interesting on its own?

Using these questions as my guide, here are my picks for the top five illustrations from The House With a Clock in Its Walls:

#5) The Stained Glass Window (p. 22) – This is a strangely beautiful drawing and more difficult to pull off than it looks - how do you make a colored stained glass window come alive as a black and white line drawing? This deceptively simple drawing raises more questions than it answers when first viewed. This is the mark of a great chapter title drawing - intrigue the reader and make them wonder what is going to happen in the chapter to follow.

#4) The Skull with Glasses (p. 156) – Creepy and oddly mesmerizing, the skull with its strands of wispy hair and cracked glasses is both a warning and an invitation to finish the story!

#3) The Moth (p. 129) – With each of the full page illustrations for House, Mr. Gorey used an irregular border which lets the image float on the page like a memory or something glimpsed through a keyhole. In this drawing, Mr. Gorey shows his skill at creating patterns with crosshatching to show different types of surfaces - wallpaper, fabric, and wood are the backdrop for the floating moth that is obviously menacing Lewis and causing him to flee to escape. The gentleness with which the moth is drawn makes it float in the air even though the menace is very real within the drawing.

#2) The Car Chase (p. 98) – This is a great mood piece and looks like a still from a 1940’s film noir movie, which the scene in the book also reminds me of. The darkness is expertly conveyed as is the flash of the lights on the car chasing our friends. The way the road is drawn with its long straight lines trailing behind the car, and the grass on either side swishing from the passing of the auto lets you know that the cars are speeding down the road without resorting to clouds of dust flying up behind the autos.

#1) The Clock (p. 169) – This drawing sums up the spooky tone of the whole story. Gorey’s use of crosshatching to create atmosphere is fantastic, as is his sense of perspective. The ghostly figure moving towards the viewer instantly grabs out attention, pulling us down the dark hallway, but the hand pointing at the clock from the left side of the drawing stops us in our tracks.


Thanks, Irwin!  Okay, that was his take on the top five. Now it’s your turn: of the twelve full-page images that Edward Gorey created for House, which one is your favorite? Take our poll and see which image chimes in at number one.

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