'Floating Worlds': Edward Gorey's Never-Before-Seen Letters

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It's no secret we're big fans of Edward Gorey, mid-century illustrator of the macabre, whose work influenced generations of creators, from Nine Inch Nails to Tim Burton. Between September 1968 and October 1969, Gorey set out to collaborate on three children's books with author and editor Peter F. Neumeyer and, over the course of this 13-month period, the two exchanged a series of letters on topics that soon expanded well beyond the three books and into everything from metaphysics to pancake recipes.

On Thursday, Neumeyer opened the treasure trove of this fascinating, never-before-published correspondence in Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer -- a magnificent collection of 75 typewriter-transcribed letters, 38 stunningly illustrated envelopes, and more than 60 postcards and illustrations exchanged between two collaborators-turned-close-friends, featuring Gorey's his witty, wise meditations on such eclectic topics as insect life, the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, and Japanese art.

"In light of his body of work, and because of the interest that his private person has aroused, I feel strongly that these letters should not be lost to posterity. I still read in them Ted's wisdom, charm, and affection and a profound personal integrity that deserves to be in the record. As for my own letters to Ted, I had no idea that he had kept them until one day a couple of years ago when a co-trustee of his estate, Andras Brown, sent me a package of photocopies of my half of the correspondence. I am very grateful for that." --Peter F. Neumeyer

Equally fascinating is the unlikely story of how Gorey and Neumeyer met in the first place -- a story involving a hospital waiting room, a watercolor of a housefly, and a one-and-a-half-inch scrap of paper with a dot -- and the affectionate friendship into which it unfolded.

There's a remarkable hue to Gorey's writing, a kind of thinking-big-thoughts-without-taking-oneself-too-seriously quality. In September of 1968, in what he jokingly termed "E. Gorey's Great Simple Theory About Art," Gorey wrote these Yodaesque words:

This is the theory ... that anything that is art ... is presumably about some certain thing, but is really always about something else, and it's no good having one without the other, because if you just have the something it is boring and if you just have the something else it's irritating.

From the intellectual banter to the magnificent illustrations, Floating Worlds is as much a powerful personal memoir of an unusual friendship as it is a priceless cultural treasure containing the spirit and legacy of one of the twentieth-century's most unique, influential, and prolific creators.

Photos: Maria Popova; Illustrations: The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.

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This post also appears on Brain Pickings.

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Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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