Give me Gormenghast

If you’ve been unfortunate enough to be around me lately you’ll know I’ve been in a dark mood (never at the library of course). I temper this with methodical/psychotic organization, the idea of fall, and by burying myself in a book that’s as broody as I am. I’m


Peake’s illustration of Alfred and Irma Prunesquallor


picking up where I left off in Mervyn Peake’s fantasy trilogy, Gormenghast. The three books are Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone. Titus Groan appeared on the scene in 1946, nine years after the publication of The Hobbit and eight years before The Fellowship of the Ring. Not that I’m comparing. (Except that Christopher Lee stars in both adaptations.) English author  and illustrator Peake (1911-1968) dealt in hard fantasy, or a world that somewhat resembles our own. No dragons or elves here. Only a dreary castle seething with shadows and murderous, bizarre characters. The entire thing is over-the-top and unapologetic


Mervyn Peake

about it too. My edition includes an introduction by Anthony Burgess who discusses the story’s exaggerated nature which doesn’t simply border on the ridiculous but flaunts it. Readers must either accept Peake’s trippy, whacked-out reality or just stop reading. And as Burgess points out, this doesn’t lessen the story’s effect. Quite the opposite, it’s creepy and shocking and humorous. Its insidious, hallucinatory effect will seep right into you.

In 2000, BBC aired the first episode of its Gormenghast miniseries which follows the plot of the first two books. I remember Christopher Lee as Flay and Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ performance as Steerpike, a kitchen boy who plots to usurp the the Gormenghast throne. Steerpike embodies everything that is antithetical to the Gormenghast House of Groan: he’s young, quick, and sexy and he threatens to overturn the castle’s ancient traditions and clear it of its beloved cobwebs and tomes. I look forward to continuing the trilogy and revisiting the miniseries. If you like owls, slow moving murder plots and psychosis, this is definitely the series for you.

steerpike bbc

Christopher Lee as Flay and Jonathan Rhys Meyers  as Steerpike in the Room of Cats; Gormenghast BBC


— CF


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