Originally published as three separate stories: The Shrinking of Treehorn, Treehorn’s Treasure, and Treehorn’s Wish the trio has since been amalgamated into The Treehorn Trilogy by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Edward Gorey.
Treehorn, a young boy, is the focal point of these three books, all of which uniquely grapple with loneliness. The removed voice of the third person narrator furthers the feeling of isolation.
The Shrinking of Treehorn is a comic but somber allegory for feeling small and alone. Treehorn is literally shrinking but nobody else seems to care in any kind of practical way. Treehorn’s parents are worried about how to explain the situation to others. When Treehorn tries to accommodate his ever diminishing size by climbing on chairs to retrieve his piggy bank or jumping up and down to reach the water fountain he is chastised for bad behaviour. The adults busily and unhelpfully make suggestions or evasive comments:
“He’s still shrinking,” sniffed Treehorn’s mother. “Heaven knows I’ve tried to be a good mother.”
Notably, there are very few other children in the texts or illustrations for Treehorn to interact with, he is always craning his neck upwards to talk to the towering adults. Shrinking or no, Treehorn vies for their attention but is largely ignored. In the illustrations, Treehorn, chameleon-like, begins to blend in with his surroundings: his pants melt into the carpet he is languishing on while watching television.
In Treehorn’s Treasure, Treehorn is, again, talked at and talked over but never really talked to and certainly never listened to. Treehorn’s father gives him a dollar as his weekly allowance and tells Treehorn to put it somewhere safe, so Treehorn puts the dollar in the hole of the old tree outside, which he thinks is a pretty safe place to store something. Miraculously, dollar bills begin to grow from the tree and Treehorn amasses enough money to buy comic books, bubble gum with pictures of baseball players on the wrappers, twenty-three candy bars, and sixteen bottles of pop – all that he could ever want. But good things never last.
Treehorn’s Wish is set on Treehorn’s birthday but there’s nothing sadder than a birthday that nobody remembers and the birthday boy is served prunes for breakfast. However, Treehorn does find a dirty jug buried in the yard that, when rubbed clean, produces a very curious looking man sporting a long robe and big gold earrings.
The text lovingly cradles the forlorn Treehorn, winning the reader’s adoration of this wanly charming character:
Today on the cereal box was a very special offer of a very special whistle that only dogs could hear. Treehorn did not have a dog, but he thought it would be nice to have a whistle that dogs could hear, even if he couldn’t hear it. Even if dogs couldn’t hear it, it would be nice to have a whistle, just to have it.
Edward Gorey was an extremely prolific writer and illustrator, his written texts are exclusively illustrated by him and he has collaborated with many other authors. The beautifully minimalistic black pen and ink illustrations are characteristic of Gorey who has a notably unique style. Once you become hooked on Gorey – like I am – you will start scouring the graphic novel section for him and notice peculiarly named authors like Ogdred Weary: anagrams for… guess who. Always creative, Edward Gorey has permeated book stores and libraries everywhere.
I love children’s literature and I love Edward Gorey but though Gorey’s work looks fit for children the majority of his content is wildly inappropriate. Generally, books Gorey has worked on that can be given to children are illustrated by him but written by someone else. I recommend Penny Candy by Edward Fenton or Three Classic Children’s Stories by James Donnelly which include Little Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant-Killer, and Rumpelstiltskin.
Other (adult-ish) reading written and illustrated by Edward Gorey I highly recommend: The Doubtful Guest, The Unstrung Harp, The Sopping Thursday, The Willowdale Handcar, and many more.