I thought I had invented the term “creepy cozy” because I was simply the only one around myself that ever said it. When watching a horror movie, I would mentally rank the film according to how many cozy elements were in it. When reading a spooky book, I would note if there were parts of the book that also made me feel snuggly. Is this irrational? Possibly. But I happen to know that Edward Gorey felt something similar for his work, and after learning as much as I possibly could about the iconic illustrator, I have determined that he is the King of “creepy cozy” and I have some facts to back it up.
First let me talk a little bit about Gorey and how I became so obsessed. One of my main sources of inspiration (and the reason I started writing the story I am writing right now) is Lemony Snicket (AKA Daniel Handler) who was a big fan of Gorey. I could see that once looking them both up, because style-wise, they seem similar. But after buying one of Gorey’s books and doing so much research, I could easily see the detailed inspiration that Handler got for his A Series of Unfortunate Events books.
I saw that there was an Edward Gorey exhibit being held at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. On Saturday, I attended. And man, was I blown away. I have some photos of the exhibit that I will post here, and the rest are on my instagram. I spent probably an entire hour in just this exhibit, as there was so much to see. There were interactive parts, with a mirror and a ballet bar so you could take pictures with a few tutus that were props. There was a recreation of his desk, two of his famous fur coats, and a projected video of his PBS Mystery! intro that he created.
So what was his whole deal? He was a creative, weird introvert. This is no surprise, those are my favorite people. But here is some background information on the genius.
Gorey’s Worlds focused on not just Gorey’s artwork, but the art that inspired him and was hung around his home in Cape Cod. The exhibit will be on display until May 6th in Hartford before going to Washington state for the summer. Gorey was born in Chicago in 1925 and died while he was living in Cape Cod in 2000 (Lemony Snicket famously believes he killed Gorey, look it up) and most of his illustrations had a gothic/Victorian style.
“The style was already on full display in his early 30s, when he published “The Doubtful Guest,” about a penguin-like creature who invades the home an Edwardian family. The Hartford show features some of the book’s original drawings. His audience widened in the 1970’s as he worked for broadway (costumes and sets for “Dracula”) and, a bit later, designed the opening sequence of PBS’s “Mystery!” series.” (Wall Street Journal)
What I love about his style is that it is playful and child-like, but the substance of the stories being told is always unsettling. I loved seeing the original sketched for “The Doubtful Guest” and was struck by how cute the little penguin-like creature was, but how at the heart of it, it is a story about someone who invades your home and refuses to leave. Creepy. (And cozy).
One of my favorite pieces that was in the showcase that was not done by Gorey but was in his home was a piece by Glen Baxter who is a hilariously eccentric artist and the piece is called “The Desecration of the Tennis Courts Has Produced a Very Difficult Situation.” Gorey was also inspired by a lot of folk art, which was on display. He found himself the subject of a few photographers as well, and those photos were in the exhibit.
Much of the work he collected and drew himself was centered on animals, as he was a big lover of them, and towards the end of his life he eventually gave up wearing his beloved fur coats and instead focused on animal activism. He could be found with six cats at a time, he was a massive cat-lover. (Many of his illustrations feature cats, which continue the “creepy cozy” theme)
What’s funny is that Gorey did not like when people called his work “macabre” as many people had used that to describe the work too often. He gained notoriety for things that were very macabre though, like his set design for Dracula (which he won a Tony for) and for his themes centered on murder/death.
My favorite of all his work has to be “The Awdrey Gore Legacy” (find the anagram) which is a sort-of murder mystery in the style of Clue. The drawings are fantastic and the whole thing reminds me of Agatha Christie, an author that Gorey was very fond of and read all of her books multiple times. There are balls and gardens and people have drinks (these are the appealing parts of the story) and then there is murder, plain and simple.
Gorey includes rainy days, mansions and seats by the window, Vicorian and Edwardian dress, and many more things that to me are considered cozy. And what does this do for me? It lets the story be more immersive, I am able to sit inside of it. Because there are aspects of these stories that I can identify with, it makes the scary that much more scary, because it is no longer removed. These things happen on a rainy, bleak day. How many rainy, bleak days have I had?! Now, I’m looking over my shoulder, and the story has proved effective.
This leads me to what stories are creepy/cozy in my opinion, which is a balance I try to strike in my own writing. I will first go over what elements in a story are considered “Cozy Factors” which is almost like getting points for how cozy it makes me feel. Many people will read this and think it is unbelievable, but hey, this is a post about Edward Gorey, so I don’t want to disappoint.
Things that get Cozy Points:
Reading nooks, rainy days, seaside towns (especially in the off-season), reading, candlelight, taking a walk on a foggy day, pianos, taking a bath, being in the forest (especially in Autumn), ridiculously large mansions, Victorian dress, any movie that contains these things that has been adapted from a novel.
It is important to note that my obsession with these specific things being “cozy” may have started from reading A Series of Unfortunate Events when I was young and thinking it was the coolest/creepiest/coziest series of all time. Shout out to it, because the second season is out now! (Not that I’ve been waiting around for it or anything…)
Stories that are my favorite displays of “cozy creepy”
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Book & Film)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier (Book & Film)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (Book & Film)
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (Book & Film)
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (Book & Film)
The Woman in Black
These are my favorites, the things that I turn to when I need inspiration. The reason they are so well-loved by me is because they are scary and creepy, yes, but they contain parts that are beautiful. The use of both is important to me, and when it is done the right way, it becomes a perfect story.
I especially love imagery of a girl lost, running through the foggy moors, a long journey on a dark and stormy night, or a massive house unknown to visitors, with secrets hiding away in its corners. I love the unknown of beautiful, mysterious women, the local lore and legends of monsters lurking in the woods, or the fear of being the next victim while occupying a luxurious train with suspicious people. I love the haunting crash of cold waves on the rocky cliffs above, the Victorian romance that is dripping with darkness, or the ominous boarding school that holds stories that we don’t dare wish to know. I love greenhouses on a rainy day where the mist doesn’t let you see out of the windows (or who could be looking in,) the small path of land between two islands that dangerously disappears with the tides. Ghosts, ghouls, goblins, mysterious disturbances. These are my favorite “creepy cozy” things, and I have to thank Edward Gorey for reminding me of them.
Let me know what your favorites are when it comes to creepy things. I know it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s always fun to exchange ideas on the subject. I feel incredibly inspired after diving back into these old sources of inspiration, and I feel they will aid me in writing tension into my scenes. Perhaps a writing prompt could come out of this?
I’ll be back soon,