Gormenghast

Over the last couple of years I had seen references to the Gormenghast  trilogy by Mervyn Peake — most recently by Stephen King.  So I finally dipped in to read the series  Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast (1950), and Titus Alone (1959).

This series is hard to categorize.  Most often it is labeled  as epic fantasy, but I don’t quite see that.  Regardless the writing is simply stunning with prose that is often lyrical and a descriptive language that repeatedly wows you.  Throughout the series the prose kept hitting me over and over in how wonderfully descriptive it and was along with how  inventive it was.

Now if only there was a plot to sink your teeth in to go with it.  These novels proceeded at a glaciers past.  For example the first novel addresses the first year in the life of Titus Groan the 77th Earl of Gormenghast.  So obviously there was not much action regarding the main protagonist.  The  reclusive earldom of Gormenghast is a place of rituals where things go on as they always went on.  The novels are filled with quirky self-indulgent characters who live in worlds of their own with minimum interactivity with others.  Titus is left to be taken care of by the nanny and his mother the Queen has time only for her flock of cats  The King similarly is immersed in the world of his library. The main conflicts of the novel involve a scheming intelligent young man who works to incorporate himself in the life of Gormenchast and later Titus struggles with his role as Earl and wanting to escape the life of Gormengast.  There are many side stories involving the inhabitants of the castle, but the whole past of the novels is maddening slow with detours involving minor characters.

So saying this why exactly did I read through the trilogy?  Simply because the writing was so worthwhile and the plotting while slow and full of quirks at least kept your attention. I am certainly glad to have read it, but can’t see re-reading it. While this is classed as a fantasy novel it is more like an alternative history and one that does not include magic or characters other than humans.  The author died before completing what was to be a larger series and the third book was published after this death.

About Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is a former atheist who after spending forty years in the wilderness finds himself with both astonishment and joy a member of the Catholic Church. A retired Navy Chief who now makes his living as an application developer.