Book Review: Halloween Edition
The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton
Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy is a collection of poetry that playfully explores the cruel sorrow that is childhood. The community of outcast children that people this book are delightfully weird- Stain Boy, Voodoo Girl, Melonhead, and The Pin Cushion Queen are just a few. Each poem explores the unique torture and misery of a single vulnerable child. With its watercolor illustrations and basic rhyme schemes, the collection may seem light-hearted at first glance, but with closer inspection, we see that these silly stories offer some scathing commentary on childhood and society in general. The poems are short and only bittersweet: the characters are lonely outcasts, abandoned by their parents to cope with the vices of the world on their own. This, though, may prove to be fortunate for the kids, as it is the parents themselves, (and, often, the other “normal” children), who seem to perpetrate the most egregious sins, including murder, hatred, envy, and selfishness.
The outcast children, on the other hand, are always sympathetic. They are ostracized by society because of some birth defect they have no control over, whether it be they are part robot or that they survive by consuming toxic waste. Even when they actually misbehave, it is always a product of their nature for which they cannot be rightfully held responsible (ex. Mummy Boy has no friends because he likes to chase around the other children in an “ancient game of virgin sacrifice.”) Though certainly victims of society, these children are also brave and hopeful in their struggle for love and acceptance.
Burton has always had a soft spot for outsiders and social pariahs, and The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy is no exception. If we can take anything away from these silly poems, it is that being strange and weird and different does not have to mean being lonely and rejected if we can all learn to appreciate the unique and extraordinary exceptions to our mundane life.
The Bottom Line: Despite its dark humor and bleak plot lines, Burton’s collection of poetry somehow manages to retain a hopeful innocence. Its adult themes make it an imperfect fit for early readers, but that is not such a serious loss as its lessons of love and inclusion seem most useful for teenagers and we jaded adults who have forgotten how to be special.