SAM AND EMMA
July 24, 2016 Special to Goreyography
Edward Gorey liked to collaborate with authors whose stories were wry, dry and delightful. No tale too serious, nor earnestly preachy. Gorey's illustrations tend to lend layers to stories that can be taken multiple ways. Or conversely, prose that withstands straightforward interpretation benefit greatly by his touch.
When I first encountered the original 1971 edition of Sam & Emma many years back, I lovingly shelved it as an example of one of his simpler collaborations. The story seemed straightfoward and Gorey's illustrations colorful yet compromised - fuzzy and over-yellow. Harmless was my original assessment.
When the new reissue appeared in the mail a couple weeks back, I couldn't help take a much slower, closer look. The re-shot original artwork leaped up, bright and sharp, every penstrokes engaging. In comparison, this new edition from Dover made the original publication by Parent's Magazine Press look like an inexpensive pirated edition. A vast improvement.
But I also discovered this time that the story felt larger. Maybe I didn't pay that much attention on first notice, or adding twenty-odd years under my belt (and a little bit over too) has turned me into a more deliberate and curious reader. Sam and Emma's story and illustrations both became quite a bit clearer on second attempt. In it I now see layers, as in onions and ogres: the first layer, an example of class or racial intolerance. Another, a tale of discovery and reaction, the next layer, a tale of the emotion disgust, and it's seeds in prejudice, and another, with a plea of acceptance and understanding, but without the typical tranformation. Toward the end, "To know all, is to forgive all", the story seemed to exhale.
There's surely more, if you can discern them, depending on your upbringing and life experiences. That's why Sam & Emma earns it's place in Gorey's storytelling universe. Directed to children? Yes. For adults, yes. For Gorey fans, indeed yes. Mr. Nelsen, who is firstly a very competent painter, intended to illustrate his own story, but Gorey had already been commissioned by Parent's Magazine to do the artwork. But I wouldn't hesitate to venture that Mr Gorey found Nelsen's story to his liking, as he seems to have given Sam and Emma the extra detail, extra care. Gorey's illustrations are fanciful and full of character, and the final result is both charming and practical.
Donald Nelsen, Sam and Emma's author, still creates evocative paintings and sculpture, and lives in Brooklyn Heights. Six of his urban realist paintings hang in the Brooklyn Heights archive. He has written one other book, for children, The Spotted Cow (1972). Visit Nelsen's website at www.donnelsen.com for more.
[There's also an interesting back story about Sam & Emma's recognition and subsequent awards when first published in 1971, and I promise to bring them to the fore when they emerge. - GE, July 2016].
Images by Goreyography, c 2016