‘The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy’ by Tim Burton

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - Save & Share - 2 Comments

I’ve always been quite a fan of Tim Burton’s films: I enjoy the way that he combines the bizarre, the grotesque and the macabre with the sweet, the innocent and the childlike.  His twisted, gothic sense of humour appeals to me immensley and so I was really pleased when I discovered that he had written a book of poems and accompanying ilustrations in his familiar, black style.  I was even more pleased when The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy turned up on my BookMooch wishlist, and soon it was sat on my shelves waiting to be read.

The poems in The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy are bizarre little snippets about people suffering from unlikely and grotesque disfigurements, amusingly illustrated by the author, such as ‘The Boy with Pins in His Eyes’, ‘Melonhead’ and ‘The Girl Who Turned into a Bed’.  They are peculiar and strange, combining these horrifying subjects with the childlike rhythms of nursery rhymes.  They reminded me a little of Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales in their tone.

This book should have been really good as the subject matter and style suit Burton down to the ground, but sadly it didn’t live up to expectations.  In poems like these, a regular rhythm is a really important part of emulating the nursery rhyme style which contrasts so beautifully with the dark subject matter.  The familiar, repetitive rhythms should lull the reader into a false sense of security, which is what makes the poems so uncanny and unsettling, yet it is something with which Burton frequently struggles.  Often just changing a word or two or even simply rearranging a line would have made the poems scan perfectly but instead the rhythm is ragged and irregular, so I didn’t find the poems as effective as they could have been.

Some of the poems seemed more like captions for the pictures rather than poems in their own right.  The entry ‘James’ for isntace simply reads: ‘Unwisely, Santa offered a teddy bear to James, unaware that/he had been mauled by a grizzly earlier that year.’ The pictures are undeniably good and well suited to the book’s style and subject matter (in fact, my chief enjoyment in the book came from the illustrations) but I wouldn’t consider them good enough to justify so little writing.

On the whole, I thought that the illustrations, the concept and the occasional flashes of humour were excellent, but I would have preferred greater attention to detail and technique on the writing side of things.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories by Tim Burton.  Published by Faber and Faber, 1998, pp. 115.  Originally published in 1997.

Posted in Book Review • Tags: , Top Of Page

2 Responses to “‘The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy’ by Tim Burton”

Comment from Joan Hunter Dunn
Time February 3, 2011 at 9:12 pm

I bought this for Warmth’s stocking this year… I think it was the illustrations that attracted me to it. It’s yet to be read but it looks lovely on the bookshelves.

Comment from PolishOutlander
Time March 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm

When I look at Tim Burton’s drawings, I think of Edward Gorey, only more twisted. I’m just a general fan of his movies, and now more so of his drawings after seeing his exhibit last year in NYC at the MoMA. It’s spooky and beautiful at the same time, I think.

Write a comment