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Titus Groan [Paperback]

Mervyn Introduction by Anthony Burgess Peake


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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  102 reviews
76 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The subtle and patient reader will be rewarded 29 Dec 1999
By John L. Velonis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I read the Gormenghast Trilogy for the first time when I was in high school, some eighteen years ago, and while many of the scenes and the overall mood remained in my memory, I completely missed most of the humor and beauty in the writing itself, as I discovered when recently rereading Titus Groan. The sonorous, skewed beauty of the language demands to be read slowly and savored as prose poetry -- I read only a few pages a day over several months. Take a passage like the following:
"Suns and the changing of the seasonal moons; the leaves from trees that cannot keep their leaves, and the fish from olive waters have their voices! ... Stones have their voices and the quills of birds; the anger of the thorns, the wounded spirits, the antlers, ribs that curve, bread, tears and needles. Blunt boulders and the silence of cold marshes -- these have their voices -- the insurgent clouds, the cockerel and the worm. ... Voices that grind at night from lungs of granite. Lungs of blue air and the white lungs of rivers. All voices haunt all moments of all days; all voices fill the crannies of all regions."
If you find this sort of thing boring, by all means skip this book. This has almost nothing to do with either Tolkien or his less skilled successors who churn out a 500-page volume every six months. I think it has more in common with a book like Moby Dick (which I have been advised not to read until I reach forty years of age), in that it demands that the reader relate the text to his own experience of life and literature.
Many of the characters are grotesque parodies, but as with other masters of satire, Peake's exaggeration rings truer to life than a more "realistic" depiction would. The characters are neither good nor evil -- even Steerpike, though ambitious and unscrupulous, is not the evil villain of so many fantasy epics, but is in many ways a sympathetic character. Perhaps the main character is the castle Gormenghast itself, the concrete embodiment of the venerable yet often dysfunctional traditions under which the human characters labor.
Mervyn Peake has here created a true fantasy -- a unique vision with its own consistency and texture, sometimes stifling and febrile, morbidly comic, but with glimpses of pathos and tranquility, sustained by an amazing elasticity of language and poetry.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Underrated Classic 16 Feb 2002
By Westley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Titus Groan is impossible to classify. Is it fantasy? Is it gothic? Is it a Dickensian flight of fancy? Well it's been classified as all of these things, but none of these labels is quite adequate. It is perhaps ultimately best described as a black comedy. The book begins with the birth of the 77th Earl of Gormenghast, a gigantic castle were ritual rules all. Gormenghast castle seems to exist in an alternative universe to ours; however, there is no magic or cuddly hobbits, just grim realism.
The plot chronicles the ramifications of when the royal family and servants encounter Steerpike, a young kitchen worker who finagles his out of kitchen service (most jobs in the castle are assigned along heriditary lines). A self-possessed rebel and clever 17-year-old, Steerpike turns their world upside down. Steerpike is like many people you may know, manipulative, self-serving, and solicitous. However, the royal family and servants are so exceedingly self-occupied, that they are easily tricked by this young upstart. Steerpike may just be the most likeable villian ever; it's hard to blame him for the things he does considering the easy targets he selects.
The book is packed with other extremely memorable characters, including the sullen royal daughter (Fuschia), the Countess who seems to care only about her "pets," innumerable wild birds and and white cats, and her sisters-in-law, the identical twins (Cora and Clarice) who are the primary pawns of Steerpike. The book also provides splendid details about the castles and its world, not surprising considering that Peake is perhaps best known as an illustrator (a few of his illustrations are included here). The writing is dense and ponderous at times, but provides so many laughs and pleasures, that it is well worth the time investment. Of course, Titus Groan is just the first part of an epic. I have not read the remaining two books yet, but am tremendously excited to do. A most highly recommended read.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gothic Drama Told Through Macabre Imagery (Spoiler Free Review) 6 Oct 2009
By Poisoned Blade - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Titus Groan is often mentioned with Lord of the Rings and incorrectly categorized as epic fantasy. This is a gothic drama. The story revolves around a dysfunctional, simple minded, royal family that adheres to archaic traditions. Trouble ensues when an ambitious youth manipulates them in a grab for power. Titus Groan could have been a short story. Weighing in at 400 pages, with 350 pages of deeply poetic detail, you should only read it if you like authors like Charles Dickens. If you're a fan of richly detailed descriptions, you'll probably enjoy this book. In order to help you figure out if you'd appreciate Titus Groan, I've made a simple quiz:

1) Which description do you prefer?
A - Making use of the miniature and fluted precipice of hard, white discoloured flesh, where Fuchsia's teeth had left their parallel grooves, he bit greedily, his top teeth severing the wrinkled skin of the pear, and the teeth of his lower jaw entering the pale cliff about halfway up its face; they met in the secret and dark centre of the fruit - in that abactinal region where, since the petals of the pear flower had been scattered in some far June breeze, a stealthy and profound maturing had progressed by day and night. As he bit, for the second time, into the fruit his weakness filled him again as with a thin atmosphere, and he carefully lowered himself face down over the table until he had recovered strength to continue his clandestine meal. (+50 Points)
B - Steelpike bit into Fuchsia's pear. It was yummy. (0 Points)

2) For every one of these words that you know, give yourself 5 points.
a) perspicaciously (+5 Points)
b) escutcheon (+5 Points)
c) conflagration (+5 Points)
d) seraphic (+5 Points)
e) escarpment (+5 Points)

3) Do you like the style of the characters in Tim Burton movies?
a) Yes, the grotesque personifications are humorous. (+10 Points)
b) No, they look all weird and stuff. (0 Points)

4) Would you like to read about a rotten royal family in a crumbling castle fall to pieces through manipulation?
a) Yes, to hell with kings and monarchs! (+10 Points)
b) No, that sounds kinda lame and depressing. (0 Points)

5) Do you like parodies or dark humor?
a) Yes! (+5 Points)
b) Nope! (0 Points)

Ok, add up your points:_____
See what score is closest to your point total.

100 Points - You should buy the entire trilogy today! Your mind's eye will be filled with vivid images of manipulation, treachery, decay, and parody. You will reread this book again and again!
80 Points - You'll enjoy reading this book and will be deeply entertained.
60 Points - You may have trouble with the book, but you'll probably finish it because the story is entertaining.
40 Points - You should probably skip this book.
25 Points - There's enough drama on TV. There's no reason to read this book.
0 Points - If someone puts a gun to your head and forces you to read this book, take your chances and try to escape!

So, there you have it.
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh, yeah.... 3 Feb 2000
By JeremyG - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is one of those excellent books that I have been fortunate enough to find. I actually picked it up while in the waning stage of my annual Tolkien revival, hoping to find some similar fantasy. I was pleasantly surprised to find a story that was nothing like our present day conception of celtic/teutonic based fantasy. In fact, this book is so completely different that it reminds me more of Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shoppe than anything. Yet I believe, yes, I believe that I prefer this book to anything Dickens. Peake is a beautiful artisan of prose, but he also has a humerous bite to his language that plays strongly off the parody stereotypes introduced in this epic. I'm not British, but I cannot help but wonder if the English see this book as a parody of their monarchy. This may answer the reason for Titus's popularity in England, whereas we Americans don't seem to pay Gormenghast the attention it deserves.
So if you are into GOOD fantasy, read this book; and when I say GOOD fantasy, I'm refering to Tolkien, not the novel-a-minute writers whom we see so often at present. This book also takes a bit of work, so if you don't like Dickens, you probably won't like Peake.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Last but by no means the least. 26 Aug 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It is a serious mistake to discount Titus Alone as merely the weakest of Peake's magnificent trilogy. It is an expansion and development of his earlier themes, and considering the circumstances under which it was written (Peake was suffering from premature senility that eventually lead to his death, he could barely lift a pencil.) it is an extraordinary and painful novel. Leaving Gormenghast and its (surviving) inhabitants behind, the novel centres on the character of Titus, and crucially puts the earlier novels in context. Despite his mother's warnings at the end of Gormenghast, there is indeed a world beyond the walls, and a world which has progressed beyond the ritual and claustrophobia of the castle itself. There is technology here. And - most extraordinary of all - no one has ever heard of Gormenghast itself. Suddenly Titus is accused of insanity (among other things) and even begins to doubt the existence of his home himself. As disturbing and beautiful as anything that went before, Titus Alone was never meant to be the end of the series. Peake was planning to take Titus even further afield, but as merely a glimpse of the outside world, the novel is an essential part of an extraordinary work of literature.
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