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The Gormenghast Trilogy: Titus Groan,…
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The Gormenghast Trilogy: Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Titus Alone (original 1967; edition 1997)

by Mervyn Peake

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3,498542,194 (4.12)1 / 74
Member:Cyradis42
Title:The Gormenghast Trilogy: Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Titus Alone
Authors:Mervyn Peake
Info:ARROW (1997), Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
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Titus Alone / Gormenghast / Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (1967)

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Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
I consider it pointless to compare Tolkien and Peake; you might as well argue whether Raymond Chandler is better than Ivy Compton-Burnett. I would only point out, since I believe no one has so far, that in Gormenghast, unlike Middle Earth, Sex exists. I also think Peake fits into the Gothic tradition in literature – it is surprising that a book containing no magic or mythological creatures or supernatural events is so reflexively categorized as “fantasy”, but perhaps, without that classification, one would have to consider it “sui generis”. I agree too with the comment about Peake’s writing being pictorial; at times when reading Titus Groan or Gormenghast, it is like allowing ones eye to wander into a large detailed canvas by Bosch or Breughel, filled with grotesque and amusing details scattered throughout a fantastic landscape.

I discovered Gormenghast at age 14, picking up the books after reading a brief but tantalizing description in Lin Carter’s “Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings.” I was living in a big city built on and surrounded by 7 hills, with its share of eccentric characters, large public buildings and a street of decaying mansions signifying a departed importance and opulence, and many narrow lanes, supplemented by iron staircases, climbing up and down its slopes. For me Gormenghast was at first a strange and exotic place in which I gradually recognized so many parallels with my home city that, by the time I was into the second volume, I almost felt I was living simultaneously in both my familiar town and the increasingly familiar environs of Gormenghast. Sitting in a late spring study hall with warm mote filled sunlight streaming through the dusty windows, reading about Titus daydreaming adventures in a similar situation, I experienced almost an identity of reader and subject.

There's one obvious difference between the Lord of the Rings and Gormenghast, and that is that Tolkien's book contains fantasy in the sense of magic and the supernatural, and Peake's doesn't. So if people like "fantasy" as a genre, they're going to be disappointed in Gormenghast. The other difference is that Tolkien gives his readers a hard-earned victory, whereas the first volume of Peake's trilogy ends with evil triumphant, and the second includes the murder and defeat of good characters, and the suicide of another. Gormenghast as a world and characters is really quite unpleasant, so it's not surprising that it hasn't caught on to the same extent. A more pronounced difference is that Tolkien gives us hobbits as a device to enter the world of Middle Earth, figures who are just smaller versions of ourselves; Peake makes no concessions to his readers, and the figure you start out identifying with, Steerpike, the kitchen boy who escapes his caste to realise his potential, turns out to be an amoral murderer who is willing to use rape as a means to an end. Who is the hero in Titus Groan?

But the main difference has got largely to do with language - Tolkien went to great length to construct 'ancient' languages to give an extra level of authenticity to his vision of Middle Earth, but his actual language, the language his novels are written in, is distinctly workaday, filled with olde-english tweeness. When Moorcock wrote about "Epic Pooh" he was criticizing Tolkein's cozy world-view, but he could also have been describing Tolkien's language. Peake didn't try and create a language, but his actual language is so dense, pungent,and bizarre, so unexpected and "outré", that reading it feels like walking through a strange, alien swamp. That language, and the equally unsettling names he gives his characters, is what gives his vision its power.

The thing that makes it seductive and special is what works against it for many readers: it's a painting in text rather than a story. Sequential logical connections between one event in one place and another on a different place are secondary (at best) to a dream-like elision between set-pieces. It's not a trilogy because the third book, like the fourth, is what's left of Peake's notes for a set of images-in-words that accreted organically rather than having novelistic plotting. Nothing of any more consequence than anything else happens but it's all happening all the time. Anyone who enters this with expectations of an ordinary mundane 'resolution' is barking up the wrong tree. It's about the journey, not some destination that didn't interest Peake. It's not that kind of work.

Peake's books are perhaps the last glorious outburst of Gothic romance in English fiction. Freud and surrealism provide considerable impetus as well. In that respect Titus Groan is so different from Gormenghast as to make it a very difficult opening volume: it meanders, it glories in static tableaux, it immerses itself in ritual and gloom. By contrast, the second book is full of action and drama. The rivalry of Flay and Swelter in the first book is a slow dance of death, whereas that between the adolescent Titus and the upstart Steerpike is energised by their youthful vigour and imagination.

Worth mentioning (as my edition of Titus Alone points out) that Peake was a war artist who entered Belsen and was profoundly affected by what he saw. Titus Alone appears to reference some of this in the horrors of the factory. But it has to be read for what it is - a fragmentary work which the author was unable to bring to completion. Each made an honourable attempt to work through some of those experiences in their fiction, in their different ways.

NB: Just look at the illustrations - Tolkien and Peake were both accomplished artists, but Tolkien tends towards the whimsical, while Peake tends towards the grotesque. ( )
  antao | Aug 23, 2018 |
A beautiful example of the Fantasy genre done right. Mervyn Peake built a realistic world, full of evil, gentle, quirky, fasinating, unforgettable characters. The brightest of them all is Steerpike (the protagonist in Titus Groan and Gormenghast. A delisciously evil mastermind we love to hate. Also, the tragic character of Fuchsia will break your heart. In my opinion, the third novel of the trilogy Titus Alone wasn't as interesting as its two predecessors, but overall, this is an iconic work in British Literature.

The 2000 BBC adaptation, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christopher Lee and Ian Richardson among others, combines the first two installments in a brilliant way. It is highly recommended. ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
A review of the physical book only

I postponed buying this new hardcover illustrated edition of the Gormenghast Trilogy for several weeks, hoping that someone would post an Amazon review describing it physically, or that Amazon would allow us to look inside it, or that the publisher would be a little more descriptive on its website, but no one came through, so I took the plunge and bought it anyway, and I just unwrapped it. Here's a review telling you what I had hoped someone else would tell me:

1) The binding is (wine and white) paper over board.

2) Signatures are clearly visible, but I can't see any stitching.

3) In a few spots in my copy, the binding appears to be on the verge of breaking. I will be surprised if it survives unbroken through one reading. It's hard to glue together a book this thick and have it hold, I think.

4) The printing is crisp and clear, and the paper is acceptable: Probably a little below what you'd expect from Everyman's or the Library of America, but above the quality of the current Penguin's hardcover classics, for example. It's clearly superior to what's in Overlook's paperback edition.

5) The artwork is fairly sparse and idiosyncratic, but it's by the author, so what can you say?

I'm glad I went ahead and bought this edition.
1 vote cpg | Oct 15, 2017 |
I finally finished it by listening to it at work on my MP3 player. It is very dense. I like the characters; I like the creation of place; I like that it doesn't follow obvious story lines and that characters don't live or die based on how sympathetic they are.

The first 2 books are definitely better than the last third of the trilogy, but the last, Titus Alone, gives some place to the country of Gormenghast castle that is absent in Titus Groan and Gormenghast.

I have only recommended this to one friend I think will enjoy the language and meandering plat development as much as I did. This is NOT light reading. ( )
  Kitty.Cunningham | Jul 19, 2017 |
An utterly incredible masterpiece of the first rank. Haunting, moving, tragic, very funny in parts, and completely original. Comparisons to Tolkien are inevitable, I suppose, but not really appropriate, as Tolkien comes nowhere near Peak's linguistic genius. ( )
1 vote tomcatMurr | Jan 31, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Peake, Mervynprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burgess, AnthonyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Crisp, Quentin S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hellar, JulekCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miéville, ChinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Michael MoorcockIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moorcock, MichaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dost thou love picking meat? Or would'st thou see/A man in the clouds, and have him speak to thee?
-- Bunyan
Dedication
For Maeve
First words
Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls.
Introduction by Quentin Crisp:  Style is a terrible thing to happen to anybody.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Introduction by Quentin Crisp (p. ix),
Introduction by Anthony Burgess (p. 1),
Titus Groan (p.7),
Gormenghast (p. 397),
Titus Alone (p. 809),
Critical Assessments (p.1025) includes:
"The critical reception of Mervyn Peake's Titus Books" by G. Peter Winnington;
"Memories of Mervyn Peake" by Louise Collis;
"The Gutters of Gormenghast" by Hugh Brogan;
"Situating Gormenghast" by Ronald Binns;
"'The Passions in their Clay': Mervyn Peake's Titus Stories" by Joseph L. Sanders;
"Titus and the Thing in Gormenghast" by Christiano Rafanelli;
"Fuschia and Steerpike: Mood and Form" by G. Peter Winnington;
"Gormenghast: Psychology of the Bildungsroman" by Bruce Hunt;
"Gormenghast: Fairytale gone wrong" by Margaret Ochocki;
"The Cry of a Fighting Cock: Notes on Steerpike and Ritual in Gormenghast" by Ann Yeoman;
"Beowulf to Kafka: Mervyn Peake's Titus Alone" by Colin Greenland;
"A Critical Conclusion: The End of Titus Alone" by Laurence Bristow-Smith;
"A Barrier of Foolery? The Depiction of Women in Titus Alone" by Tanya Gardiner-Scott
Titus Awakes (p. 1165)
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0879516283, Paperback)

Mervyn Peake's gothic masterpiece, the Gormenghast trilogy, begins with the superlative Titus Groan, a darkly humorous, stunningly complex tale of the first two years in the life of the heir to an ancient, rambling castle. The trilogy continues with the novels Gormenghast and Titus Alone, and all three books are bound together in this single-volume edition.

The Gormenghast royal family, the castle's decidedly eccentric staff, and the peasant artisans living around the dreary, crumbling structure make up the cast of characters in these engrossing stories. Peake's command of language and unique style set the tone and shape of an intricate, slow-moving world of ritual and stasis:

"The walls of the vast room which were streaming with calid moisture, were built with gray slabs of stone and were the personal concern of a company of eighteen men known as the 'Grey Scrubbers'.... On every day of the year from three hours before daybreak until about eleven o'clock, when the scaffolding and ladders became a hindrance to the cooks, the Grey Scrubbers fulfilled their hereditary calling."

Peake has been compared to Dickens, Tolkien, and Peacock, but the Gormenghast trilogy is truly unique. Unforgettable characters with names like Steerpike and Prunesquallor make their way through an architecturally stifling world, with lots of dark corners around to dampen any whimsy that might arise. This true classic is a feast of words unlike anything else in the world of fantasy. Those who explore Gormenghast castle will be richly rewarded. --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:24 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Enter the world of Gormenghast: a vast, crumbling castle of labyrinthine corridors and cloisters, turrets and dungeons. At the center is the seventy-seventh Earl, Titus Groan, Lord and heir to all. Titus is expected to rule this extraordinary kingdom and his eccentric and wayward subjects, but he longs for a life beyond the castle walls. With the arrival of an ambitious kitchen boy, Steerpike, the established order is thrown into disarray. Things are changing and Titus must contend with a kingdom about to implode beneath the weight of centuries of intrigue, treachery, manipulation, and murder."--Dust jacket.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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