Things that make me happy:
3) Anything pink and sparkly
4) When one of my favorite book series hosts a costumed themed competition
I love the Peculiar Children book series by Ransom Riggs. They combine just the right amount of creepiness with a lot of quirk and personality. Each character is unforgetteable and the storyline is gripping. This series is a perfect example of what makes the Young Adult genre so great, people (and as an unashamed hoarder/mass reader of YA, yes, I feel perfectly authorized to say that!).
The last book in the series comes out this fall (2015) and it’s called The Library of Souls. To celebrate the book launch, there’s a costume competition going on in which we have to show our “most peculiar” outfits. So of course, I want to try my hand at a cosplay!
My first thought was to do a costume of one of the female peculiars, but that’s too easy. And because I have Rule 63 to back me up (aka genderbending, for those of you who aren’t familiar with good ‘ol 63) I decided to tackle one of my favorite characters from the book.
“Enoch O’Connor, Dead-Riser, born to a family of undertakers who couldn’t understand why their clients kept walking away.”
Enoch is one of the odder characters in the book, even among a group of self proclaimed peculiars. He spends most of his time on his own, and he has a very disturbing talent: bringing the dead back to life for a few moments. He can accomplish this by holding a disembodied heart in one hand and then touching a dead body, therefore bringing life through the extra heart, or by taking a heart and putting it into something else, such as when he removes the hearts of mice and puts them into his clay dolls, making a small clay army for himself. As he puts it: “I can take the life of one thing and give it to another.”
The reason I chose to try to bring Enoch to life (heh heh, get it? Yeahhh you do) is not because I think his talent is one I’d like to have, but because I think it’s particularly disturbing and that makes him a very interesting character. He always acts very tough and I think that’s a reaction that he’s learned to put up over the years; after all, how else could you deal with death on a day to day basis, and become so intimately acquainted with it that you actually speak to those who have gone through it? The scene in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (book one) in which Enoch raises the dead custodian is particularly horrible, yet gripping (it’s my favorite scene in the book because of the way it’s written… very powerful). Can you imagine doing that every day? I can’t. So Enoch’s tough exterior is well warranted. But only a few moments after raising the dead custodian, when the group of Peculiars are confronted by the danger of being killed, it is Enoch who makes a simple, terrified admission: “I don’t want to get eaten!” Interestingly, even though they are all afraid, Enoch is the only one to make this statement out loud.
A dead-riser who is afraid of death. The irony is sharp and profound, and it makes his character a whole lot more interesting. Enoch has had a hard life, harder I think than any of the other Peculiars, but he’s not all attitude and gruff sarcastic anger through and through. I get the sense that there are different levels to him which he keeps closely guarded under his glaring outer persona. He’s an interesting one to study, and that interest made me want to figure out what his essence is and try to not only translate it into real life, but into a female version.
The photograph on which the character is based, as well as the illustrations in the graphic novel, show Enoch as being a young boy, pre-teen to maybe 15, max. He wears grungy overalls and a cuffed shirt, sometimes with shoes and a hat, sometimes not. That’s simple enough: I would be able to cosplay that alone right out of my salvation army or probably a local garage sale.
But here’s the problem: that’s not how young girls in the 1940’s dressed.
Making a Rule 63 costume doesn’t just mean being a girl and wearing the guy’s costume, it means asking what that character would wear if he/she were the other gender. And if Enoch were a young girl in the 1940’s, he would not be wearing those overalls. So I had to start from scratch.
The only thing we really know about Enoch’s past is that he is old (being 118 compared to the other Peculiars, who are in their seventies) and that he was born into a family of undertakers. Basing his age on the year the first book was released, I did some mathematical stuffs (math… the literature student’s natural enemy!) and I figured out that Enoch would have been born right around the early 1900’s. So although he is stuck in 1940 just like all the other kids in his loop, he has actually lived through a LOT more than they have. Thus while I wanted to use a 1940’s piece for the base outfit, I also wanted it to look older, like something that could possibly have been from the 1920’s or so.
I began researching what mourners looked like in the 20’s and 40’s, because women mourners had specific clothing that they would wear and I felt that incorporating this element would add an appropriate nod to Enoch’s back history of being from a family of undertakers. Most of the later pieces seemed to be very classy and not like anything Enoch would wear, so I started focusing on female children. After sorting through lots of weird and freaky images (why was postmortem photography ever a thing, btw? *shiver*) I found this one, which purportedly shows children at a funeral in the 1920’s:
That was more like it. Remove the shoes, the stockings, and the giant hats, and you can easily picture these kids running around and playing somewhere in these same outfits. That’s more along the lines of Enoch, bringing a somber sense of death together with everyday life and function.
Based on that idea I turned to Ebay and went through a lot of different dresses from the 20’s and 40’s. Most of the ones for women and girls that have survived or are being emulated are dresses that were worn by housewives, very light and flowy and not Enoch-y at all. But finally I came across a gem: a dress that, with its drop waist and wide bottom cut, was casual enough that I could see it being worn outside, but had the black color and the buttons seen on a lot of classic mourning outfits. As an extra coolness factor, the seller identified this dress as actually being a vintage piece from the 1940’s, not just a knockoff. So this dress has seen a lot just like Enoch has.
With that secured (after a mini ebay fight; I hate when people bid against me on something I want >.>) I moved on to the finer details of what a female Enoch would wear. He (she? We’ll stick with she now that we have a dress) would definitely not have the shoes and stockings that would complete this outfit, as that would mess with going outside and working in the clay and formaldehyde. So in order to replicate the casual feeling of Enoch’s design in the original, I decided to leave bare feet and legs. For the hair I looked around at a lot of different styles, but they all seemed to involve too much effort for Enoch, whom I image would just want hair out of the face. Therefore I decided to leave my bangs and pull my hair back into short pigtails, as the look of pigtails is pretty much timeless, specific to children, and gave a more youthful look.
One of the most noticeable features about Enoch in the photograph is the fact that he is posing with dolls. Thankfully I am a doll collector, so gathering those props was as easy as opening my bedroom door. The one in the black dress (by Dark Manor Dolls) was chosen because I feel she matches the mood of the outfit and it is actually hand molded, which is the type of creation that Enoch would make in the book. The stitched ones were selected because I felt that that they are something a young girl of those times could make herself (sewing instead of clay molding- made by Linen Circus).
Finally, the hearts. After all, a dead-riser without the means to rise her dead would not get very far, now would she? In the book Enoch keeps hearts in jars, but that wasn’t going to happen here for quite a few reasons, not least of all the fact that the smell of formaldehyde makes me want to “chuck my guts” as Bronwyn so delicately phrased it. But in order to pay homage to that idea, I employed a necklace which I happened to already own which features a tiny anatomically correct heart in a jar. It made me think of the tiny hearts that Enoch would give to the dolls in order to bring them to life. I pondered for a while whether or not to incorporate any more hearts, but come on… my favorite scene is when Enoch brings a man back to life using a sheep’s heart! I had to give a nod to that. After investing in a bottle of fake blood from amazon I had the splatter, but I would need to find a main piece. Everything I looked at was either too expensive or too fake looking. Thankfully I managed to scrape up a happy medium…. A mold. For jello.
Hey, if it works, it works.
I had two different sets in mind based on the two locations that are specific to Enoch in Miss Peregrine’s loop. The basement that Jacob first wanders into and which seems more like a mad scientist lab than a storage area is actually Enoch’s work space. There are a lot of different specimens preserved in glass down there and even though we don’t really see it happening it’s easy to imagine Enoch hunched over in the dark, experimenting with different organisms and seeing what types of hearts work best with different creations like a mini Doctor Frankenstein. I recreated that space in a little corner of my room because I don’t have a creepy workshop readily at hand. I wanted to give the impression of Enoch working to build up his creatures from nothing so I used a mermaid doll (also by Linen Circus) which paired well with a gorgeous book that happens to feature illustrations of the insides of all different types of fantastic creatures, here flipped open to the Siren page (in case you’re wondering, the book is The Resurrectionist, also published by Quirk… FANTASTIC FREAKING BOOK).
The second location was outside, because that’s where we actually meet the character in the book. Given the fact that I live on ten acers of land with mia familia and that most of it is forestry, the woods made an appropriate backdrop and were used accordingly.
The evening before I was planning on taking these pictures, my little sister asked if she could “be in the cosplay”. I had no real time to plan an entire costume for her so I had to go with what was in my closet, and that ended up being a 1960’s era dress that I had purchased in order to cut up for parts when I needed it. So it’s a little too new to fit the time period, but hey, she’s cute enough to pull it off. We put some curls in her hair and got creative with the photography to add Olive, the floating Peculiar, to the lineup.
Part one: “Can I play with the dolls, too?”
“Fine, Olive, but only if we can play kite afterwards.”
Part Two: This is why none of the other children play with Enoch.
And with all of that finished, I could see what Enoch would look like if he had been a she. With an outfit appropriate to the 1940’s and yet reaching back to an earlier period, it gives a glimpse of “Enoch” as a young woman who had been around death all her life, who had in fact been born into it. Casual enough to go outside and play with dolls (or bring them to life) while also somber enough to attend a funeral, this costume was designed to walk the fine line between death and life, rough and timid, unaffected and afraid, just as Enoch does.