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The Willowdale Handcar

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  587 ratings  ·  48 reviews
In this enigmatic, surreal, wonderfully entertaining tale, three mysterious figures set out from Willowdale, traveling by handcar. On the way to nowhere in particular they pass a number of odd characters and observe a series of baffling phenomena, from a house burning down in a field to a palatial mansion perched precariously on a bluff.

At once deeply vexing and utterly hi
Hardcover, 64 pages
Published October 6th 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 1962)
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4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  587 ratings  ·  48 reviews

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Dec 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aaaahhrrrtt
deeply vexing, indeed!

anyone who tells you, in a review of this book or in smug cocktail party conversation, that the black doll "pops up" or "follows" the characters around portending doom is the worst kind of liar ever.

i thought i'd missed something so i dusted off my highlights magazine hidden pictures skills


and spent half an afternoon where's waldoing each page looking for that damn doll only to come to the conclusion that either these people are goldang liars, or delusion
Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Mysteriously delicious and dark....

Wow.... absolutely out of this world, this story, wonderful black & white drawings, mysterious, weird, surreal, creepy....completely 'out of the box'... I'm revisiting all the drawings in the book as we speak, book next to me on the couch. Trying to find that black doll... outside on the cover, in the inside pages... What is this really about.... what's the story here... It doesn't matter really, every page is a gem and a story in itself. Analysis is usele
David Schaafsma
Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I like narrative; I like to read and tell stories, both fictional and non-fictional, and have even written a book about its uses (while acknowledging its possible limitations!). I also like artists and theoreticians that seriously and comically question the value of narrative. Think of the film Slackers, which shares anecdotes, but doesn't really create a narrative arc; like its characters, the film goes no where, it is a "slacker" structure, perfect form for its content. Reading these help me s ...more
I love the names Edward gives to his characters and his towns. Here comes up with the craziest stuff. He always finds just the right word. His stories are never usual and you never really know where they are going. Our 3 characters are bored and they find a handcar and they take off into the wild for adventure. This goes on for months. They must be very bored. They see all kinds of things from town to town and meet all kinds of people. It would actually make an interesting longer story. The whol ...more
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Annet
Description: Three mysterious figures set out from Willowdale, travelling by handcar. On the way to nowhere in particular they pass a number of odd characters and observe a series of baffling phenomena, from a house burning down in a field to a palatial mansion perched precariously on a bluff.
Dedication is:
For Lillian Gish

This is the opening page.

Ivonne Rovira
Feb 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommended to Ivonne by: Annet
Three unobservant chums from the turn of the 20th century — Edna, Sam, and Harry — decide on a lark to leave their village of Willowdale and travel the surrounding countryside by handcar. Despite some pretty alarming things going on around them that the reader will pick up on, our clueless trio never becomes alarmed because they never catch on that some pretty nefarious doings are afoot. I guess their cluelessness is supposed to be part of the fun, but I was just befuddled by it all.

Still, the i
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Creepy, weird, and utterly engaging. A short macabre story that is told along with black and white pencil drawings. I'm now hooked on reading many of the other Gorey stories.
Nick Hentschel
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is the one little Gorey book that I own, because I relish the challenge of figuring it out! A strange little puzzle of a tale, "The Willowdale Handcar" enigmatically unfolds a tale of death & tragedy..... none of which the readers (or the main characters) are able to figure out, as they navigate its outer bounds in a stolen handcar.
Ostensibly a macabre sort of travelogue, "handcar" presents us three young folk from the kind of early 20th-century scene that Edward Gorey does so well, who
Sarah Sammis
Mar 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pc
I can't remember if my introduction to Edward Gorey's gothic humor was his animated opening to Mystery! or his illustrations in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot (one of my cherished books of poetry). Anyway, I love his books and his art.

The back of the book describes The Willowdale Handcar or the Return of the Black Doll thusly:

In which three Pilgrims
find mystery
abort peril and
partake of religious community.

And the discerning Reader
discovers Meaning
in their Progress.

Amanda - Go Book Yourself
Jul 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: comics, retro, wtf

I've really been neglecting my Edward Gorey books lately. For shame.

Edna Harry and Same are out for a stroll one day when they decide to "borrow" an old handcar they find at the railway station.

What was supposed to be an afternoon excursion extends into a trip lasting months and months. Bad luck seems to accompany the crew along the way in the form of a mysterious black doll. They come across a house burning down. They hear of a person crushed by a boulder and they rescue a baby hanging from a
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
What a ramblingly odd little story. I'm not sure that I see the point of it.

Three protagonists set off via handcar (how very Victorian), because they think that their lives in Willowdale are just too dull. Little do they realize, but dramatic things are happening all around them! A young woman has run away from her beau, a baby is left on a mail hook, a man is seen lurking at the scene of a previous explosion, and another is seen abandoning himself to the swamp. It is almost a relief when our p
Sep 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I adore Edward Gorey's small books. I especially love how no attempt is made to explain the morbid bits of his stories and how the characters (usually kids) are delightfully nonplussed by them. His precious expletives (crumbs!) and curious, grotesque art are as delicious together as salty and sweet.

The Willowdale Handcar is a great little story of adventure and scandal. Per the usual Gorey story, explanation is withheld, but in a way isn't annoying but fun, like secrets. This story had me imagin
Amy (Other Amy)
This is a picture book about narrative itself. It was fated that I adore it. Proper review to come.

(Reread in Amphigorey; reviewing separately.)
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
He's so perfectly weird. In the best sense.
Clare Fitzgerald
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
While looking for another book to start last night I noticed that I had a few Edward Gorey (or at least Gorey-illustrated) books on my TBR shelf instead of over where all the other Edward Gorey books are, and I figured that one would be about the right length that I could read the whole thing while feeding the cats. So I picked up The Willowdale Handcar, which did in fact take me almost exactly 15 minutes to read.

This story concerns three friends--I assume they are friends; they are hanging ou
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well that was different. A bit creepy, a bit off kilter, a bit what the what? The illustrations are dark and intriguing, the writing both droll and disturbing in a dead pan kind of way. Not sure what I just read but I'd like more please!
Megan (ReadingRover)
I like Gorey’s art but the books just don’t seem to be for me. I really like the Ghastly Crumb Tinies but the others just aren’t my thing. I know this is by unpopular opinion but oh well. Sometimes you have to go against the grain.
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
"Little Grace Sprocket, playing in a home-made mud puddle, watched them go by with longing",, October 22, 2014

This review is from: The Willowdale Handcar: or the Return of the Black Doll (Hardcover)
Still a turn-of-the-century setting, but this time most definitely set in USA, this follows three young people who take a handcar for a spin, and their adventures, including a visit to
"Edna's cousins, the Zeph Claggs. He showed them a few of the prizes from his collection of over 7,000 glass telephon
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
I want to like it. I really do. But, after hours of attempting to find explanations and analyses only to come up with repeated instances of "the story is that there is no story!" I can only be frustrated and angry. How is this author becoming so popular and well-reviewed by creating stories that lack meaning and make no sense?

Two stars because I liked the concept at first. I really thought it would be going somewhere, something big would happen, a huge plot twist, SOMETHING.

Now, I'm off to attem
Callie Rose Tyler
Nov 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books
This one was actually very interesting. What is really great about this story is the method used to tell the story. At first, the story that seems to be the main plot is not it is actually just Gorey’s plot device. The background elements that seem at first to be just arbitrary goings-on or minor subplots are really the main story, pretty genius. This is a very cool, interesting, and difficult way to present a story. This is definitely one of Gorey’s best. A thought provoking and intelligent wor ...more
Jun 29, 2012 rated it liked it
THE WILLOWDALE HANDCAR OR THE RETURN OF THE BLACK DOLL is the full title of this little book.

Three friends go for a walk, steal a handcar sitting on a railroad track and roll away for days and days of quick looks into the lives of friends and strangers. And why is this "The Return of the Black Doll"? The black doll is on the cover and glimpsed in the house of Mrs Regera Dowdy; otherwise, not a word about her nor any other pictures. How Gorey!
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Black Doll rules!
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a funny little book.
Mark Brown
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
delightfully entertaining indeed
Michael Kearney
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was ok

great, potential here.
Sep 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite Edward Gorey books. I used to have the Bic C read it to me every night (especially when I was on bedrest).
May 20, 2012 rated it liked it
The second book that I have read of Mr. Gorey's. I liked it better than the Evil Garden. Great premise, strange, but I admire his imagination. Enjoyed the time frame.
Mar 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Hilarious bit of Gorey! If somebody wants to have at least 5 Gorey books in their collection, they should consider adding this one to it!
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Classic Gorey: weird, seemingly random, with a hint of the sinister.
Feb 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Three people are bored of life in their town and so decide to take a handcar down the railroad track, unsure of when they will return. I feel like there were bits of the story I missed out on.
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Born in Chicago, Gorey came from a colorful family; his parents, Helen Dunham Garvey and Edward Lee Gorey, divorced in 1936 when he was 11, then remarried in 1952 when he was 27. One of his step-mothers was Corinna Mura, a cabaret singer who had a brief role in the classic film Casablanca. His father was briefly a journalist. Gorey's maternal great-grandmother, Helen St. John Garvey, was a popular ...more