September 9, 2004

The Wordless Novel

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Reading is the backbone of nearly every college education. While none of my courses have actually began doing anything of significance, I already have 200 pages in background material I need to read for just one of my courses. Now, I am not complaining; There is far less that I need to do than many of my colleagues, and I personally enjoy reading the articles and sources that my various professors can dig up. I even enjoy reading for its entertainment value. I hope this does not sound too shocking. I find that many people can’t imagine enjoying to read when they have thousands of pages they have to read. Thus, after much research, a solution has been found for the masses that mixes the wonderful opportunities offered by books and the brainless ones offered by other means of entertainment: the wordless novel.

Andy Riley’s The Book of Bunny Suicides is a modern-day classic of the wordless novel. While at first glance, this morbid book seems horrible, distasteful, and something that will cause PETA to go into a hateful rage, we must remember that the bunnies in this book want to die. Humans are not killing them; they are killing themselves. This is a far cry from other comics where demented people are torturing poor defenseless cats. If you happen to be someone who enjoys that type of humor quit reading this article now because I don’t want to talk to you.

The genius of Riley’s book has as much to do with the psychologically fragile bunny as it does with the ways in which they figure out how to die. Many of us have always wondered what exactly happens when someone doesn’t quite stand center on Star Trek transporter platform, or what exactly it would be like to piss off aliens who have seemingly only come for a cup of tea.

Riley gained his qualifications from his experience writing for Trigger Happy TV and his weekly comic within The Observer Magazine. This bright orange book has around 100 pages and has a list price of $10.00. Also, for those who finish this book there is a sequel that should be out by the end of the year.

The second classic of the wordless novel genre is the ying to the yang of the Bunny Suicides. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is written/illustrated by expert Chris Van Allsburg, creator of The Polar Express and The Stranger, and stands as a curious collection of illustrations with captions that spark a flurry of imagination.

The history behind the creation of this story is that every picture in this book illustrated a story that has long been lost. All that remains is a caption and the ability of the reader to figure out the rest. The introduction to the book states this most clearly: “For those who thought themselves as unimaginative, this book will prove the opposite. Even the most reluctant imagination, when confronted by these drawings, will not be able to resist …. ” The pictures are imaginative as are the captions. A house seemingly blasting off into space or a bump in the carpet that won’t be squashed are only a few of the gems that one can find. The quiet determined looks of some of the characters throw emotion into a world that is otherwise seemingly silent. Or the subtleness of the captions, like one that states “He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back,” all make this book an imaginative classic of the wordless novel, even if it has a few words.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a 36-page children’s book with a list price of $18.95. I would suggest looking at Van Allsburg’s other books while you are in the area as they are each a classic in themselves.

Archived article by William Cross
Red Letter Daze Contributor