In the first book of The Gormenghast Trilogy (Titus Groan), Mervyn Peake introduces us to the world of Gormenghast; a rumbling down secluded castle, on the edge of the earth cut off from reality. Gormenghast is a place of traditions, rituals, and repetition. It is a castle whose dynamic is to constantly look back to the history of its past and embrace it. The characters of Gormenghast are moulded from the very stone the castle was built from, they are one breathing entity. They live non-lives, every day repeats itself. This world of Gormenghast is dead; the winding corridors of the castle are dead; the stifling air that the characters breathe is dead and their souls are dead. However, little do the inhabitants know that all is about to change with the birth of Titus Groan, heir to the Gormenghast throne.
This story has a Once Upon A Time feel to it. Set in a bizarre place full of unfathomable strange characters and ludicrous traditions. Reality is certainly not the core of this book and these traditions have little reasoning behind them. The novel resembles something close to the middle ages; there seems to be few rules and to act on impulse is what is done. Although, in this dead world impulses are few. This book emerged after the war in 1946; unlike the other books which appeared at the same time it is not a book about learning from our mistakes and moving on. Instead it celebrates violent acts. The castle survives upon traditions, which have been initiated from the very first earl of Gormenghast. Titus Groan is now the 77th.
Mervyn Peak is essentially describing an unchanging world, where nothing out of the ordinary ever comes to play. The language in the book evokes a feeling of lethargy, stillness and non-life. Yes it is flowery, ever so poetic and beautiful at times, but its description causes the book to move slowly, a technique Peake uses to his benefit. At times I found it hard going and I would put it away, intending not to continue reading but the book always pulled me back in, its descriptions ticking over in my mind and its strange characters haunting my memory.
I found the characters of Gormenghast very fitting to their surroundings, mirroring the qualities of real people but ghastly over exaggerated. Lord Sepulchrave’s twin sisters for example, are whimsical characters; if you placed them in the world we live today they would simply belong in an asylum. Every character in this story is different and has its unique set of traits yet they are all connected to each other, Titus groan and the castle itself. Everyone’s actions have consequences. Personally my favourite character has to be Steerpike, a character largely influenced from World War II. A radical leader, no doubt, who uses people to get to the top. He can be compared to Stalin, the leader of Russia at the time telling people “Equality is a great thing, Equality is everything”.