Museum Reads: “The Nightmare Before Christmas”

Artie and Craig enjoy story time in the library, reading “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
illustrated poem, that acted as inspiration for Tim Burton’s stop-motion film.

In recognition and support of The Nightmare Before Christmas, currently on exhibit in the Tobin Theatre Arts Gallery, the McNay Art Museum Library has mounted a small display of books for browsing at the foot of the spiral staircase. Drop on down—and if you’re not feeling particularly spidery, why not take the stairs? Here are five of my favorites:

  1. The Nightmare Before Christmas, a poem written and illustrated by Burton, is the basis for the film (directed by Henry Selick but produced and co-written by Burton). Both made their public debut in 1993, but the ideas had been rattling around in Burton’s brain for years. Very recently, a family of four took seats at the table with our Tim Burton/Nightmare book display; before they left, the two young girls each showed me the drawings they had made from Burton’s drawings in this book. A gratifying unsolicited endorsement!
  2. In Tim Burton Interviews, editor Kristian Fraga compiles fifteen interviews with Burton by thirteen interviewers. What I like about interviews with artists is that—beyond the works of art themselves—an artist’s words are our most reliable source of information (including the artist’s intentions) about those works. Fraga states in her introduction that “the interviews selected for this volume have not been edited for content and have only been altered to italicize the titles of films, books, and music.” As an occasional interviewer myself, I find it slightly unbelievable that (at some stage of the process) there were not some additional edits for “uhs” and “ums” and the occasional unintended word repetition or question and answer deemed not up to par. Still, Burton’s voice comes through loud and clear, as refracted through the prism of many interviewers.

  3. You wouldn’t recognize Burton from his 1976 high school graduation picture in Ken Hanke’s Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker. So clean-cut! This is one of several books in the display to remind me that Pee-Wee Herman raced across the country in a futile attempt to locate his stolen bicycle in the basement of the Alamo. I was there last Sunday: no basement. I’m referring, of course, to Burton’s 1985 film Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. One of the great things about this book is how it entices me to seek out some of the many Burton films I’ve missed—or misremembered. Remember the Alamo (has no basement)!

  4. Published in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art’s 2009 Burton exhibition, Ron Magliozzi and Jenny He’s Tim Burton is full of colorful Burton art. Though a small book, it will give you some idea of the range of Burton’s artistic output. I suspect our aforementioned young visitors were captivated and inspired by this book as well. A much heftier book in the same vein—almost too massive to lift with one hand—resides in the library’s Special Collections: The Art of Tim Burton. I’ll be glad to retrieve it for you.
  5. Alison McMahan writes that The Films of Tim Burton: Animating Live Action in Contemporary Hollywood “is a study of the work of Tim Burton and how his films fit into contemporary Hollywood filmmaking.” While this is an academic, scholarly book, it is very readable. McMahan argues here that Burton is a “pataphysical” filmmaker. My telling you what that means would spoil half the fun. As a librarian who sometimes wants to follow the trail of the writer’s sources, I appreciate the usual scholarly inclusions, especially the endnotes and bibliography (decidedly unpataphysical). 

Visitors of all ages enjoy “The Nightmare Before Christmas” exhibition and books display.

The McNay Art Museum Library is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:00 am to 3:45 pm; Thursdays from 10:00 am to 4:45 pm (until 7:45 on select H-E-B Thursday Nights); and from noon to 4:45 pm on select AT&T First Sundays. We hope to see you soon!