“To the memory of Lancelot Brown.”
Why is this wee book of weirdness dedicated to an 18th Century landscape architect? Lancelot Brown was responsible for at least 150 different English landscapes (probably a lot more), and was given the nickname “Capability” Brown because he was known to see capability for improvement in every garden, landscape, and park he laid eyes on.
But this book has nothing to do with landscapes. Or England (even though Edward Gorey fools everyone into thinking that he’s from England. Probably because he draws in a British accent. But he’s from Chicago!).
No: this little book is the sequel to The Haunted Tea Cosy: a Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas. Alas, the Library owns but one copy of that, so here’s my secret-and-brief review of that book (don’t tell anyone!). Edmund Gravel sits down to have some tea and ten-year-old fruitcake, when from under his tea cosy springs a giant beetle creature. “I am the Bahhumbug,” it declared; “I am here to diffuse the interests of didacticism.” Then Edmund is visited by 3 spirits, who each do stupid things. The End.
The Headless Bust– in which there is neither bust nor disembodied bust head — features Edmund and the Bahhumbug together again at Holidaytime, but this go-round their adventures are regaled in verse. They are visited by a wingèd Whatsit who guides them to a “provincial town” where the various inhabitants are all distressed for some reason or another. Eventually they return home, bewildered. So, they send fruitcake to the indigent and get ready for The False Millennium.
What does this have to do with The Holidays? Well, there’s fruitcake. Or, maybe the secret is in the second-to-last verse, which references the French hymn, “Quel Grand Mystère,” that begins like this:
Ah! Quel grand mystère! / Dieu se fait enfant. / Il descend sur terre, / Lui, le tout-puissant!
It’s all about what a great mystery it is that an omnipotent deity descended to Earth in the form of a baby. And, there’s a baby in The Headless Bust, too: it appears on top of a Summer Solstice cake (says the mother; the father vehemently disagrees).
Other possible yuletide parallels: a giant aubergine carrying a mystic lettered message floats above everyone’s head (Q code for “are you ready,” or perhaps eggplant for “Hail, y’all!”). A man appears bearing a giant box of loose teeth, which might be useful to someone (supposes a person named Q—-).
What other holiday mysteries lurk in the lurid illustrations of Mr. Gorey? C’est quelque chose d’un grand mystère.