I’ve gushed on here before about the amazing work of Edward Gorey, but one thing that is hard to come by is autobiographical texts about the enigmatic man. Many people write, discuss and even study at the masters level all of his drawings, but to get Gorey to talk about himself, what he thought about, what he felt at any given time was not a easy task. Our saving grace is he was a fanatic for writing letters and during a brief period the end of 1968 and the end of 1969 Gorey found himself a new soulmate and launched into an epic adventure of correspondence, saved and now reprinted for us all.
Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey & Peter F. Neumeyer is exactly what it claims to be. A thirteen-month epic saga of literature, philosophy and fraternal love that only comes along once or twice a lifetime. Gorey was introduced to Neumeyer as a possible illustrator on his new children’s book. The two clicked immediately and gravitated towards each other like reaching for the same star. It’s heartwarming, engaging and maudlin with the impossible highs and vacant lows only felt by those intimately bound to each other.
After moving your way through only the first few letters what you find is the cautious, nervous and inherently charming words of two people on the verge of a close-knit friendship. They start off in that well-known race of trying to out impress the other. They trot out quotes and paraphrases from one hundred year old books like they were talking about today’s newspaper. On top of being terribly interesting, it served to remind me how much more there is out there to read.
Of course, Gorey could not be satisfied with just sending a plain, old envelope. His missives to Neumeyer were always decorated with unique drawings and typeface, making them more than just communication, but pieces of art in themselves. It plucked a heartstring of mine, tucked away in the closet of my past, where I couldn’t wait to get to the mailbox to see what surprises were waiting for me. In the modern world of e-mail, texting and instant chat, writing letters has softly been swept into the sea of anachronistic novelties.
Much of their discussions on publishing and creating new material together centered around a series of books they imagined starring a young boy named Donald. They had very specific visions of what they wanted to say and the tone in which the stories should be told. That precision and intense detail found them in all familiar territory for Edward Gorey. Where should the books be categorized? They were too dark and heavy for the children’s section, but most adults would not immediately recognize them as meant for an older audience.
This was a constant struggle for Gorey. He personally hated the whole idea of being pigeonholed into one or the other. In one occasion it was suggested that he make two different versions, one for each audience, and he was even more offended by that, becoming passionate and verbally pugilistic. Trust me, never getting into a verbal dispute with someone who can quote ancient poetry. You’ll never understand how badly you’ll lose.
Gorey also battled with depression, even to the point of questioning his reason for existing, or even if he did at all. For a period of time he signed his letters, “Ted (I Think)”. You can also hear the turmoil in his writings, like this one from The Unquiet Grave:
Birthday Resolution: From now on specialize; never again make any concession to the ninety-nine percent of you which is like everybody else at the expense of the one percent which is unique. Never listen to the False Self talking.
The saddest part of book is waiting for the other shoe to drop, or in this case the other letter to stay unwritten. After this intense interlude, Gorey got quieter and quieter. Neumeyer reached out with touching consolation for any possible offense he caused, but it was never anything close to that. Gorey just folded back into himself and left a warm hole in another life he touched so deeply.
Floating Worlds is the true life tale of a friendship from the very beginning to the silence, which is never quite the end.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=0764959476]