In my continuing quest to read everything either written or illustrated by the late, enigmatic artist Edward Gorey, I’ve come to a children’s book called Cobweb Castle, written by Jan Wahl and illustrated by Gorey. This is one of the rare cases where Gorey used color instead of his unique and famous pen and ink style. It definitely makes the book feel lighter, but not surprisingly the story it tells is not a truly happy ending.
Cobweb Castle follows a grocer named Flemming Flinders, who loves his books more than anything else in the world. His one true desire is to have an adventure like those he reads about. One day he finally decides to set out in search of that dream and he quickly finds himself swallowed up by a rotating cast of fairy tale characters. His journey lands him at the foot of Cobweb Castle, which may present the treasure he has been seeking for, but will he recognize it?
Like many children’s books and fairy tales, there is a moral to the story, or least one I think I’ve found. Don’t let yourself get too narrowly focused on a single thing because you are likely to completely miss everything else, and there is where you’ll find what you are looking for. Jan Wahl’s story falls very much in line with Edward Gorey’s stories (holy crap, that really needs to be the name of a collection of his), following a possible happy ending to a much more subdued if not morose end. Wahl is also no stranger to illustrations by incredibly well known artists. Another of his stories, The Pleasant Fieldmouse, was given artist life by none other than Maurice Sendak.
The added color to the artwork dials down the morbid and heavy tone that accompanies much of Gorey’s work, but the tall, thin and possibly waifish people are still there, along with the odd background characters that would all feel at home wandering through Twin Peaks. Actually, Edward Gorey himself could live there.
Cobweb Castle is a superb addition to any collector of Gorey’s work, but also a touching, if not full chipper, tale to read to the children before bed. I certainly plan on doing it, once my son keeps still long enough to listen to it.