Thursday, 12 March 2015

Creepy Reads Review: Tim Burton's The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories

The first post in March is a Creepy Reads Review. It is about Tim Burton's collection of stories called The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories. Some of the stories are just one sentence and every story is with illustrations. Almost all stories are in a form of a poem, with rhymes and cute yet disturbing contents. Tim Burton has both written and illustrated the book. It was first published in UK year 1998 but my edition is a paperback printed 2005. I got it from a friend since I have such twisted sense of humor and such motherly instincts. ;)

Cute meets creepy in about all Burton's productions, as you probably know. He has made many many movies that goths hold dear, like Sleepy Hollow, The Nightmare Before Christmas and so on. I do some research on the authors and illustrators whose work I present in my reviews but I do not want to write their biography or anything. I wish to concentrate on the actual book. This is partly because even though a work that is reviewed is creepy and goth-y, the author of it might not be that goth-y and their other works might not be goth-y at all.

When I started to read the collection my first thought was "oh my, these stories are quite grotesque!" PI guess this partly happened because I am writing my master's thesis of grotesque and for the last four months I have have been reading research on the subject. Someone might say that I see grotesque in places it should not be! Even though I might be extra well tuned for grotesque, I still regard my perception reliable and that this book of Burton is grotesque in a most delightful way. The grotesqueness is the biggest reason why I think this collection of stories is suitable for Creepy Reads Review.

Some of the poems in Burton's collection of stories are really sad yet there is a hint of humor that corrupts the poem and makes it rather grotesque, like in the previous photo a story of a boy with nails in his eyes. The illustration has more gore than most of the pictures but it still provokes to laugh.

Instead of being that funny, some of the stories are just disturbingly bizarre, like "The Girl Who Turned into a Bed". Unmentioned narrating voice tells about a girl who starts to turn into a bed after picking some plants, her head swells and her organs became a mattress. Best of all is the last comment on the tragic metamorphosis:
It was so terribly strange 
that I started to weep. 
But at least after that
I had a nice place to sleep.
The narrating voice and the whole event gets really grotesque thanks to this practical and heartless comment. It takes the whole story over the top, making it extreme.

The title poem of the little Oyster Boy reflects well the rest of the collection. Oyster Boy is just a victim, a boy who was born being half oyster, half human. His parents resent him, their sex life dies and in the end his father eats him since this was proposed by a doctor:
The doctor diagnosed,
"I can't be sure,
but the cause of the problem may also be the cure.
They say oysters improve your sexual powers.
Perhaps eating your son
would help you do it for hours!"
Then there is a scene of burial that is banalized by the parents and the narrator. The parents hardly grief in front of the remains of their child and decide they'll try to get another, hopefully normal child.

Most of the characters, or should I say subjects of the poems, are sad little kids who are shun by others. Of coarse almost equal amount of the kids are someway twisted, a bit devilish children. They too often encounter a pathetic demise.

I personally think that "Jimmy, the Hideous Penguin Boy" is the most heart-breaking tale in Burton's collection, though at the same time it brought a little distressed smirk on my face when I read it. That is typical for grotesque stories, they make people laugh unwillingly, little disoriented. I believe the reason why Jimmy makes me smile awkwardly is because it is in the same collection with the more humoristic poems. I get this horizon of expectation, I anticipate it to be funny but it turns out to be just sad and disturbing. The most awful thing about it is that the poor little Jimmy does not even get a proper rhyme!
Jimmy, the Hideous Penguin Boy
"My name is Jimmy,
but my friends just call me
'the hideous penguin boy.'"
That's it, the whole poem! And beside it is this really depressing picture of little Jimmy. Need I say that I love this story? It gets a strong reaction and shows how reading starts to mold the readers expectations.

Another one of my favorites is "Mummy Boy", which is one of the longest poems. It tells the story of a boy who is a mummy, although his parents are normal people. He is not that nice to other people and is therefore shunned out but in the end he finds a mummy dog to be his friend. Unfortunately on a walk with the dog Mummy Boy is mistaken as a piñata with tragic consequences.

As I have mentioned in the beginning, I have done research on grotesque and I can say with some conviction that this collection of stories in the form of poetry is grotesque. The collection is quick to read but still very entertaining. Grotesque has a tendency to crawl under reader's skin, making the reading experience delightful yet disturbing.

There are 23 stories in The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories and I have referred to only five so there are plenty of stories to be discovered, if you get your hands on a paperback like mine or another edition!


  1. I´m dying to have this book, saw it in a shop a long time ago and the little rhymes and illustrations really caught me. children should be raised by these books XD

    1. I agree! If I am ever trusted to babysit a friend's kid, I'm going to read these for that toddler! :D

  2. I love the matter of fact way the stories are told, like, as you mentioned, at least having a nice place to sleep on the girl who turned into the bed. I love to read that book and laugh but also feel bad about laughing. I know you can buy the figurines, and I am kind of tempted!

    1. Little figurines would be awesome, especially if you make them little melancholy terrariums! :)

  3. Thanks! I'll have to check this out. A few years back, a friend gave me a Tim Burtons Tragic Thoughts Light-Up Journal
    Not sure what I ever did with it.

    1. That is an awesome thing to receive from a friend! And the character on the cover is also in this book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy! ^^

  4. you just helped this one to jump a few spots on my wishlist XD

  5. Another book that goes on my never ending to-read list *sigh* ;)

    1. Yay! ^_^ I'm sure you'll find this delightful when you get to read it!