Writer Mervin Peake was obsessed with keyholes. Peering through the keyhole, listening through the keyhole, calling through the keyhole – once a baby even had to breath through the keyhole when most of the main characters were locked in a burning room (they escaped of course, for killing off most of your main characters in the middle of the story sort of cripples the plot). Many characters in the Gormenghast trilogy had funny names like Prunesquallor, Bellgrove, Steerpike, Flannelcat and Mulefire. One can tell Peake must have had great fun had thinking of names. The writing itself is amazing – descriptive writing at its finest. Every beam of light, every shadow and every action is so well described I felt I was there. And then there is how he describes it all. A picture paints a thousand words, though a thousand words do not always paint a picture. If used right however, words can paint things beyond just images. In the case below, 173 words do just that.
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. They sprawled over the sloping earth, each one half way over its neighbour until, held back by the castle ramparts, the innermost of these hovels laid hold on the great walls, clamping themselves thereto like limpets to a rock. These dwellings, by ancient law, were granted this chill intimacy with the stronghold that loomed above them. Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow. (From Mervin Peake's Gormenghast trilogy) (http://www.mervynpeake.org/gormenghast/gormenghast.html)
And so sets the scene for one of the most fascinating, mindboggling, humorous and memorable books I have ever read and probably ever will read...
When I was fourteen, my mom read a book. Actually, it was three books; a trilogy rolled into one long book that took a few months to finish. She enjoyed it so much, she decided to read it aloud to me and my younger brother. The Gormenghast trilogy (which is made up of Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Awakes) is rather a hard book to explain and all she really told us about it was that Gormenghast was a castle inhabited by "strange odd characters" whom one had a bit of a hard time getting attached to because they were such strange odd characters and that it had a lot of long words and descriptions. This was not a problem for me and my brother, for we knew that if our mother said a book was good, it was. However, I will endeavor to give a more explanatory one.
The lives of those within Gormenghast and the hovels in its shadow (but particularly the Gormenghasters) revolve around sacred rituals that must be performed. The earl of Gormenghast is the cornerstone of it all; almost all his daily movements are dictated by ritual. For example, on a certain day he dines from such-and-such a time to such-and-such a time, walks up a particular staircase (or if it has long since fallen down, a similar staircase that will take about the same amount of time to traverse), sees so-and-so, etc.. This is the world into which Titus Groan, 77th earl of Gormenghast, is born into at the same time that an ambitious kitchen boy decides to leave the kitchens.
That is how the book begins, but this nutshell of the world of Gormenghast does not come close to half explaining the plot, characters or the writing itself. This is not sort of story one can explain: one can only appreciate it by reading it.
Reading it at age fourteen, I felt in some ways it was similar to my own series I was slowly trying transfer from my brain to paper. No, my series was not about a people trapped in ritual and my descriptive writing is nothing like Mervin Peake's. The main similarity between our works was the complexity. Each of the three books in the trilogy was so long, so descriptive, with so much thought to the whole thing. It consisted of so many unusual incidents so fascinating that one may find amusement running them over in their brain an infinite amount of times. My own series, which also features a castle – though unlike in Gormenghast, the characters world extends outside of it – started out as something I was thinking up to write, but ended up becoming something in my mind I was writing because it was there. Day in and day out, I run the numerous unusual incidents over in my mind for little more than my own amusement. Was Gormenghast gone from Peak's mind once it was on paper or did he have his own castle in his brain?
Mervin Peake did not plan to stop at book three. He had planned for the series to follow Titus' life, but Parkinson's disease and an early death cut short the series. He did however, start the fourth book, Titus awakes, and it is possible to read the first few pages. After that, what little more he had written was indistinguishable. Peake is not as well known as writers like Charles Dickens, famous for his numerous popular books, including his last book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood – a book whose ending will always be a mystery due to Dickens premature death. This is considered a tragedy to his fans, but to Peake fans, the loss of the rest of Gormenghast is a tragedy just as big. If I ever get the first book of my series finished, I will have to write down important events and tie up loose ends so that any fans of the series will not spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened if I die before I can get it all on paper.