The Importance of Being Gorey, or A Review of Mystery in Six Chapters

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Chapter One: The Mysterious Hallway

The Gashlycrumb Tinies, or After the Outing by Edward Gorey was published in 1963. Neville was born shortly thereafter. He then spent some time growing. At some point in the process, before it had advanced significantly, he happened upon a poster of The Gashlycrumb Tinies. It was divided into 26 panels. Each panel was a letter of the alphabet and each letter was a child and each child was in the process of his or her demise. The poster was framed in someone’s hallway. He couldn’t recall whose. He couldn’t even recall how old he was. But he was old enough to be fascinated and confused by the terrible fates of these children, laid out in a grid of pen-and-ink snapshots. Why was Yorick’s head knocked in? Did someone find Fanny’s dessicated body in the swamp? What did it look like? So Una fell down the drain, but then what? Was she drowned? Suffocated? Simply lost? How can someone be devoured by mice? Rats, sure. But mice? What does ennui mean?

Neville then spent some more time growing. These questions receded into the back of his mind, mostly forgotten because whoever’s hallway that was, it wasn’t someplace he frequented.

After the jump, Chapter Two: The Fortuitous Discovery

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Many years later, after more growing, Neville discovered the author of The Gashlycrumb Tinies was a gentleman named Edward Gorey. He recognized Gorey’s work in the title sequence for Mystery, a PBS show he found boring once the title sequence was over. So this is who made that poster hanging in someone’s hallway, he thought. And it wasn’t just a poster. It was a book. And there were more books like it. Many more books. He read as many of them as he could find.

He eventually acquired a personal collection. They occupied their own section of his bookshelf. He wasn’t sure if he had all of the books Edward Gorey had written, but after a time, he mostly had the ones he wanted. He once gave away his copy of The Doubtful Guest and never got around to replacing it. He paid way too much for out-of-print copies of The Insect God and The Hapless Child. The Curious Sofa was one of Neville’s more obscure Edward Gorey books. He adored it for the violent suddenness of its inexplicable last page. It was perhaps his single favorite moment among Gorey’s works.

Neville was surprised to discover that Mr. Gorey was not English. Instead, he was educated at Harvard. When Mr. Gorey died, Neville was saddened for a time.

Chapter Three: The Wayward Cells

As more growing happened, one of Neville’s cells got the rules wrong when it made a copy of itself. It created an incorrect cell that should have died. But the incorrect cell didn’t die. It instead created more incorrect cells. As more growing happened, over the course of months and maybe years, the incorrect cells continued to make copies of themselves. They grew too fast and too wrong. They grew into a substantial tumor. Neville developed throat cancer.

As treatment for the cancer, he spends 20 hours inside a CT scanner with his head and chest held immobile by a hard plastic mesh. Not all 20 hours at once, of course. But for at least 20 minutes at a time and sometimes longer over the course of many weeks. Technicians, who are very friendly, bolt the mesh net in place. Then they leave to operate the machine remotely from the next room. The machine scans him, precisely measuring the extent of his tumor to plan pinpoint radiation treatments for that day. It takes about ten minutes. After the scan, the technicians wait for the doctor to consider it. Usually he says something like ‘yes, very good, proceed’. Neville is not present to hear this, as he is still in the machine. Sometimes the doctor doesn’t say that, so they scan him again. Which takes another ten minutes. Once the scan is acceptable and a plan is in place, the same machine administers radiation to his tumor. This takes about fifteen minutes. For the duration, the mesh prevents any movement. Not even a slight wriggle, which might disrupt the plan. A plastic ring gantry is a foot or so from his face on all sides. It makes soft fluttering noises. The technicians talk to him over an intercom to let him know how it’s going.

“The scan looks fine, Neville,” they might say. “We’re starting your treatment now.”

Or sometimes, “We’re going to have to do the scan again, Neville. You’re doing great.”

At some point, the treatment begins and the machine makes different kinds of soft fluttering noises from inside the plastic ring gantry. The noises circle around his head like insects or faeries.

“Only ten more minutes, Neville,” they might say.

“Only five more minutes.”

“Three more minutes, Neville. You’re doing great.”

Some of the technicians don’t use the intercom much. He’s not sure whether ten minutes or two minutes have passed. Someone has taped a picture to the inside of the ring gantry. It has been cut out of a travel magazine. A man and a woman sit by a pool. The ocean stretches out behind them, yet they’re still by a pool. The woman wears a bikini. She is in fine shape. But because of his circumstances, Neville feels nothing. He has no sexual feelings towards her. He has no feelings towards her at all except to wonder why she would be by the pool instead of out on the beach.

This is a terrible way to pass 20 minutes. It’s an even worse way to pass 30 minutes, or 40 minutes. Neville will come back and do it again the next day. And the day after. And the day after. For eight weeks.

In an effort to consider things other than his tumor or the woman by the pool for whom he has no feelings, Neville recites to himself The Gashlycrumb Tinies, from A to Z. A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who wasted away. D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh. He eventually gets to Zillah, and then he starts over again with Amy. He often gets stuck somewhere along the line. For some reason, H and M are regular culprits. He backs up and runs through the last few couplets, hoping a running start will shake them loose. It usually does. Hector done in by a thug. Maud swept out to sea. Once he got stuck on Susan until he got home and looked her up. S is for Susan who perished of fits.

Chapter Four: The Unexpected Box

One day a parcel arrived at Neville’s home. He read the card, which declared it a gift from Mayfair Games, a most generous publisher of leisurely strategy endeavors and fantastical adventures for the tabletop. Neville opened the parcel and discovered within a box exuberantly titled “Mystery! Motive for Murder”. But what Neville noticed even more than the enthusiastic punctuation was the pen-and-ink artwork that adorned the face of the box.

Detectives with electric torches and magnificent mustaches investigate around a sizeable urn. A mysterious gentlemen drinking tea peers from behind a crumbled monument. A peacock feather juts ostentatiously from a long thin woman’s turban. She pushes a wheelchair and nervously glances behind her. The features of the figure in the wheelchair are suspiciously covered. Could that be a ghost beside the tombstone? Or just a prankish youth in white? And is that a body underneath the tree?

It is unmistakably the work of Edward Gorey. Not someone merely aping Mr. Gorey out of a sense of fondness, as perhaps a overearnest reviewer might assay. It is Mr. Gorey’s actual artwork from the introduction to Mystery.

Neville feels something upon discovering the artwork on the cover of a tabletop game. It is possibly profound. It is undoubtedly gratitude. It is also comprised variously of doubt, elation, curiosity, and admonishment. ‘Someone has made an Edward Gorey game,’ are the words that express his feeling at their most basic level. But the doubt, elation, curiosity, and admonishment are each separate subtexts for that feeling. To wit, “A game cannot possibly express anything meaningful about Edward Gorey’s works”, “What a fantastic boon that I have received a game about Edward Gorey’s works”, “How in blazes — pardon the vulgarity — could someone make a game about Edward Gorey’s works?”, and finally “How dare someone make a game about Edward Gorey’s works!”

Perhaps you have seen the animated introduction for Mystery on PBS. Perhaps you recall a frame or two from The Gashlycrumb Tinies. K is for Kate is not easily forgotten. Perhaps you own one of Edward Gorey’s books. Perhaps you own several of Mr. Gorey’s books. Whatever the case, it’s unlikely you feel gratitude towards Mr. Gorey for assisting you through 20 tedious hours inside a CT scanner during a frightful stretch of your life. At the sight of Mr. Gorey’s unmistakeable artwork on the box, you might shrug and think “how interesting”. You might be more or less intrigued. But you should understand that Neville’s regard for that box is singularly uncharacteristic.

Chapter Five: The Missing Students

“I have gathered you today to solve a murder,” Neville announces.

Neville coughs and says it again. He takes a sip of water. He coughs once more. He says it again. Much better, he concludes, cursing his ruined throat.

“We shall play the role of detectives. Each of us has a hand of three suspect tiles and three motive cards. On your turn, you simply play a tile or a card.”

Neville explains how each tile is a character, as is evident by the artwork, name, and description on the tile. Arrows along the edges denote potential relationships. When placed adjacent to another tile, if the arrows align with the adjacent character’s arrows, they effect a relationship. Text alongside the arrow describes the relationship. The arrow’s color indicates the nature of the relationship. A blue arrow is a loving relationship. A red arrow is a hateful relationship. The number next to the arrow indicates the degree of the relationship. A marriage of convenience would be a loving one. A jilted lover would be a hateful five. Neville arranges Horace the dishonest butler so that he secretly desires the austere prude Baroness Eugenia. A loving four. He arranges Percy so that he is being blackmailed by Violet. A hateful five.

“The strength and nature of these relationships determine who has the greatest motive to kill the victim at the center of the tiles. And it’s not simply who most hates the victim. A murder mystery is rarely resolved by implicating the suspect with the most direct relationship. How prosaic! Consider that someone who hates someone who loves the victim has motive. Conversely, someone who loves someone who hates the victim has motive. So long as the relationships alternate between love and hate, the strength of the motive is cumulative when you trace it through an adjacent suspect.”

Neville takes a moment to let this sink in. He demonstrates with the tiles again. If Violet has been murdered, Percy’s hateful five is a strong motive. But if Beatrice is a childhood friend to Percy, her loving two is added to Percy’s hateful five. That’s seven points of motive.

“We take turns laying tiles as one might lay dominoes. But instead of matching pips, we’re establishing motives for the murder by matching arrows. After three rounds, whoever has laid the tile with the most motive has successfully fingered the culprit and scores the most points.”

Neville anticipates a question.

“”But who actually committed the murder?” you ask. That is not our concern. We are detectives. Our sole pursuit is to build a case. The courts then determine whether the case is strong enough to convict the suspect. We simply uncover motive by building chains of relationships. For instance, you suggest that Percy murdered Violet, but I suggest more plausibly that Beatrice murdered Violet. Which of them actually murdered Violet? It doesn’t matter, does it? Justice wearing her blindfold works on two different levels, one a lack of bias, the other a necessary disregard for something so elusive as truth. What matters is that I have made the stronger case by accusing Beatice, so I have proved the better detective.”

Neville anticipates another question.

“Ah, yes, the cards. I’m glad you asked. Instead of laying a tile, you may play one of these cards to throw a wrench in the works. If you’ll indulge me, I shall demonstrate with a few brief examples.”

Neville plays an alibi card on Beatrice, which removes six points of motive. Now Percy is the suspect with the most motive. He then plays a false evidence card, which allows him to remove Beatrice’s alibi marker. Beatrice once again has the most motive. He lays Madame Delphine next to Percy and plays a secret marriage card, which establishes a loving eight, independent of any arrows! Now Madame Delphine’s loving eight plus Percy’s hateful five gives her thirteen points of motive. This easily trumps Beatrice’s seven points of motive. Madame Delphine, secretly married to Percy who was being blackmailed by Violet, is the murderer.

“I suppose I should say she has the most motive,” Neville corrects himself. “Whoever played Madame Delphine would win regardless of the truth of the matter. So for the next case, we remove Violet who is dead and Madame Delphine who is incarcerated, and we reveal a new victim. After three cases, whoever has the most points wins.”

Neville rounds up the tiles and cards, takes a deep breath, coughs once more, and begins again. The empty chairs patiently watch him rehearse.

Chapter Six: A Proffered Opinion

Neville and Prue discussed their time with Mystery! Motive for Murder.

“It’s quite a lot of math,” cried Prue.

“Yes, it is,” agreed Neville, “but what is it math about?”

“How do you mean?” asked Prue.

“It’s math about terrible murders in an inky Victorian countryside for nefarious reasons. It is furthermore devoid of candlesticks, billiard rooms, and anyone named Colonel Mustard.”

“I suppose,” sighed Prue, recalling the web of motive they had just spun. It turned out Agnes had murdered Lord Ivan’s wife Maxine because she was having an affair with Lord Ivan. The earlier accusation towards Herr Otto, whom Maxine had caught spying, had proved less likely.

Had Neville been more given to discussions about games, he might have pontificated about the relative importance of theme and mechanics. Had he known of it, he might have even cited Professor Mortimer Cull’s high minded philosophy on ludonarrative resonance. Instead, he just smiled approvingly and told Prue that there was no such thing as a game without math.

“One might say it’s a brain burner,” said Prue, recalling the turn in which she had to calculate whether playing Sir Gerard the dashing archaeologist or Jasper the mysterious groundskeeper had been the correct choice. Unbeknownst to her, the correct choice would have been to play her secret loyalty card.

“Perhaps,” Neville agreed agreeably. “Shall we proceed to the next case?” He poured another glass of gin. He observed to Prue that she hadn’t touched her sherry and would she prefer gin? She busily inserted a cigarette into a tasteful jade holder.

“Gin, I find, dulls the senses,” Prue remarked, flipping over a tile for the next case’s victim. Princess Zuvella has been murdered! How horrible! The game was, as has been said in other quarters, afoot.

“What I find most bothersome,” Neville finally offered, “is games one, two, three, four, and five. It is intended that one should begin with game one.”

“Where else?” asked Prue

“But game one plays by only the most basic of rules. A game for simpletons.”

“Or children,” said Prue.

“Quite so. But then, should one wish, game two will prove more complicated, for ever so slightly less simple simpletons.”

“Or perhaps older children,” Prue offered.

“It is not fully itself until game five. In which case, us being neither simpletons nor children, should we not have begun with game five? And yet, what a bothersome task to search for a rule when it might be anywhere. Oh!” Neville pressed the back of his hand to his forehead.

Prue reminded Neville of a recent Tuesday evening when they had received visitors. Lord Derleth, newly returned from business in the Orient, and Lady Holloway, renowned for the delicacy of her singing, had called upon them. Neither was accustomed to such parlor room pursuits as game five of Mystery. So they had played game one to pass the time. Lady Holloway declared it quite charming. Lord Derleth grunted approvingly.

“Would you call them simpletons?” challenged Prue.

Neville declined to answer, but he conceded the point that the bothersome rules allowed for a game suitable to various possible occasions. Prue declined to remind Neville of the many boxes in his collection that would be of no use next time Lord Derleth and Lady Holloway called. The unfathomable enigma of A Study in Emerald. The damnable dice of Troyes. The inscrutable sprawl of Archipelago. Those dreadful X-Wing miniatures. Instead, she asked, “Would you rather we had played Catan?”

Neville sipped his gin gravely.

  • Mystery! Motive for Murder

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  • When a body is discovered in the courtyard of a stately English mansion, the weapon and location are obvious: the only questions the investigators need to answer are who and why. Every guest may have a motive, and every one of them has secrets they're trying to hide! Your reputation as a detective will be assured if you're the one who makes the final arrest. One by one, you interview and re-interview suspects to establish the strengths of their relationships with the victim. Which of the guests had the greatest motive to commit murder?
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