Thoughts on Gormenghast

Mervyn Peake is a dark god in a bizarre world of whimsy and melancholy. Gormenghast speaks of freedom, passion, and living, yet it is an examination of madness, of horror, of tragedy.

And what does it say of tragedy? That it is meaningless, random. Therein lies its horror. That same meaninglessness infuses the traditions and rituals that make up the daily lives of Gormenghast’s inhabitants; whatever meaning they once held has been lost to time, though every step and word of the rites have been retained. The oppressiveness and weight of the castle-city itself echoes that of the interminable rhythm of ritual, and the prison of destiny in which Titus finds himself. Those souls who are vibrant, passionate, artistic, intelligent – are all crippled or twisted in their ways by the atmosphere of Gormenghast. The prison of their home steals from them their potential, and grants them dust and madness in return.

I love this book utterly, as I love its predecessor, Titus Groan. It is great and gothic. It is complex. It is farcical. It is horrific. Peake’s prose is a particular indulgence of mine. His every word is skillfully chosen, each sentence perfectly formed.

I’ve chosen an example, one that particularly caught my eye:

And the days move on and the names of the months change and the four seasons bury one another and the field-mice draw upon their granaries. The air is murky and the sun is like a raw wound in the grimy flesh of a beggar, and the rags of the clouds are clotted. The sky has been stabbed and has been left to die above the world, filthy, vast and bloody. And the great winds come and the sky is blown naked, and a wild bird screams across the glittering land…

And every day the myriad happenings. A loosened stone falls from a high tower. A fly drops lifeless from a broken pane. A sparrow twitters in a cave of ivy.

The days wear out the months and the months wear out the years, and a flux of moments, like an unquiet tide, eats at the black coast of futurity.

That is to say… years pass.

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