I had meant to write a piece about one of my favourite artists, Edward Gorey and his work of the Treehorn trilogy. But on re-reading I remembered there was something else that I really loved about the books – the exquisite writing and boundless imagination of their author, Florence Parry Heide. In the Shrinking of Treehorn (1971) we meet a small boy, who discovers he is getting smaller.
'He really is getting smaller,' said Treehorn's mother. 'What will we do? What will people say?' 'Why, they'll say he's getting smaller,' said Treehorn's father. He thought for a moment. 'I wonder if he's doing it on purpose. Just to be different.' 'Why would he want to be different?' asked Treehorn's mother.
But he doesn’t mind in the slightest. Treehorn is utterly absorbed by a series of inexplicable (and possibly imaginary) events that are far more interesting than his self absorbed mother and utterly boring father. ‘That’s nice dear, said his mother, looking into the oven. ‘I do hope this cake isn’t going to fall,’ she said.”
Outside his family he meets many more people who aren’t interested. There’s Moshie, a sort of non-friend who is there simply to be unimpressed by everything he says and does. Workmen, aunts, bus drivers even Genies, none of them want to hear what he has to say.
I wonder whether Neil Gaiman had Treehorn’s world in mind when writing Coraline? There are big similarities; both live with uninvolved and self-interested parents and both slip in and out of another, darker place. Behind every doorway is a forbidding blackness.
Her words and his pictures are utterly inseparable – this is a book you simply couldn’t re-illustrate. As this interview from the wonderful curious pages shows, they were kindred spirits
‘And now: I was to meet him. I, Ms Plain Vanilla, was to meet the famous and fabulous Edward Gorey: We were to sign copies of the newly published THE SHRINKING OF TREEHORN. And there he was: be still my heart. He asked me to call him Ted. Edward Gorey asked me to call him Ted! He gave me a beanbag frog he’d made on which he’d stitched: I have turned green.’
It’s a tragedy the two never worked again. Another, non-Treehorn story was planned in the early 70’s, called Dillweed’s Revenge and you can find out about that soon.