Cautionary Tales

Dillweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide and Carson Ellis

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Spurred on by her success with the Shrinking of Treehorn in the early 1970s Florence Parry Heide sought to create a new story for Edward Gorey to illustrate. It took that books central idea and pushed it that bit further. It pushed it right over the edge.

In Dillweed’s Revenge we meet a boy who like Treehorn is ignored by his parents. Here the parents aren’d simply distracted they’re downright negligent, jetting off in their bi-plane and leaving Dillweed at home, under the care of the servants.

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The servants unfortunately turn out to be somewhat dishonest, and rather abusive to poor Dillweed who has to take over their duties as they play lord and lady muck

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But Dillweed doesn’t let things wash over him in quite the same way as Treehorn. He is utterly ruthless and in posession of a box of tricks that can summon wraith like demons from the pits of hell.

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The publishers couldn’t stomach the ending (which really delivers on the revenge part of the title) and asked for a re-write. Judging by the response from some of Amazon’s righteously offended reviewers they were probably right to be worried. But Gorey reputedly refused to work on a different version and so it was forgotten until 2010, the year before Heide’s death, when the unaltered text was unearthed by the agent of Carson Ellis, illustrator of Home and the Wildwood stories.

Ellis makes a brilliant stand-in for Gorey, expanding his sparse pen and ink into full theatrical tableaux, adding wonderful gouache colour to Heide’s dark world.

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As with Treehorn, Florence Parry Heide demonstrates her gift for names, the cast list inclding Perfidia! Skorped! Umblud! and of course Dillweed!30124-1396980993-dillweed 1

I’m looking forward to exploring more of Florence Parry Heide’s other hundred books. Next on my list is her final book, Princess Hyacinth, the Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated, illustrated by Lane Smith.

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