Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast
trilogy has grown out of its reputation as a cult classic and into the mainstream of fantasy, as a book no reader interested in Gothic dare to miss. It is one of the most distinctive, absorbing and wonderfully strange
books ever written. The story concerns Titus, heir to and afterwards 77th Earl of Groan and his adventures in the sprawling, crumbling castle of Gormenghast. Gormenghast is an entire world and Titus comes to grips with his prime antagonist, the sinister kitchenboy Steerpike, amongst a brilliant profusion of characters and vivid detail. Peake's work is rarely compared with that other great fantasy trilogy to come out of the immediately post-war years, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
but in ways the two works do go together. Although Tolkien is plain and expansive where Peake is elaborate, poetic and inward-looking, both authors nonetheless use a detailed imaginative escapism in order to talk about the concerns of their day--specifically the passing of the old certainties of traditional England and the coming of something new. "'Equality is the great thing', said the sinister Steerpike, pulling the legs off a stag beetle and preparing to take on the whole hierarchy of Gormenghast, 'equality is everything'." This is why the short, surreal oddity of Titus Alone
, the third novel, is the best: finally leaving his castle home Titus finds the larger world stranger even than his birthplace.
The new television series, with which this edition ties in, promises great things but the best part of Mervyn Peake is to be found in his ornate, poetic writing; his grasp of the Dickensian oddities of character and the utterly unique atmosphere of the books. --Adam Roberts
His novels, said Burgess, are 'aggressively three-dimensional... showing the poet as well as the draughtsman. It is difficult in post-war English fiction to get away with big rhetorical gestures. Peake manages it because, with him, grandiloquence never means diffuseness' there is no musical emptiness in the most romantic of his descriptions. He is always exact. . [Titus Groan] remains essentially a work of the closed imagination, in which a world parallel to our own is presented in almost paranoiac denseness of detail. But the madness is illusory, and control never falters. It is, if you like, a rich wine of fancy chilled by the intellect to just the right temperature. There is no really close relative to it in all our prose literature. It is uniquely brilliant.' Anthony Burgess Dark, dense, baroque and hauntingly beautiful. Peake's lush prose and imagery are a pleasure to any lover of the beauty of the written word. A word of warning, however: this one takes its time. Most readers are used to more watery offerings - this is thick, creamy and extra-rich -- Carlos Ruiz-Zafron Guardian A master of the macabre and a traveller through the deeper and darker chasms of the imagination The Times I discovered it at 15 and have been rediscovering it ever since. It's a profoundly enchanting world, but there are no elves or spells the magic is purely in the writing Joanne Harris I started reading it and did not stop.The images conjured up the most weird visions. Images that I had not encountered since absorbing my first introduction to the world of William Blake. It is a fantastic, almost surrealistic flow of vision -- Ronald Searle