In reading Stephen King’s lamentation of the end of the Harry Potter series, I note that he said something to the effect of (and I’m paraphrasing rather liberally here)
I’ve never heard of Gormenghast. I went to the library and checked out a copy of Titus Groan (the first book in the series), and it’s sitting on my coffee table, holiding position #3 on my List o’ Books to Read. I peeked at the first paragraph, and to me it seems a little wordy, but beyond that I don’t have much to go on.
You’ve heard of Harry Potter. You hadn’t ever heard of Gormenghast. That tells you something.
I only ever saw some of the television miniseries that was made of it, and reviews such as Wiki’s article on it. The whole thing strikes me as weird and gothic. Sort of like an inferior version of Zelazny’s Amber series.
Yes, the Gormenghast trilogy is really good. The first two much better than the third, but still. I read it ages ago, when looking to fill the void after I finished reading LOTR.
And just because you hadn’t heard of it, doesn’t mean it’s not good, obviously. We’re in the midst of Pottermania right now, but no one knows if the Potter books will stand the test of time, except as really good examples of English schoolboy stories.
It tells me you are basing your literary taste on what is widely popular at the moment, which isn’t necessarily the safest course to take.
To my mind, Gormenghast (the first two books) is indeed one of the great creations of 20th century literature. That being said, it certainly doesn’t appeal to everyone. Its particular combination of erudite language and pitch-black absurdity is one I myself like. Others may find its fits of purple prose difficult to read. It is a surreal, grotesque masterpiece - imagine Kafka combined with Dickens, rather than (say) Tolkien; it is not an “action” type fantasy. Its themes are alienation, insanity, obsession, vengence and ambition. Which, as far as I am concerned, is all to the good.
The true greatness of this work is in the atmosphere created by the poetry of the language, combined with the profound analysis of good and evil, sanity and insanity created by the characters - who are not mere grotesques as they may at first appear.
The Gormenghast trilogy is one of those “little-known classics” of fantasy literature. The blurb on the cover of my edition has quotes by C. S. Lewis and Robertson Davies in praise of the work.
Depending on whom you ask, all three books are classics; or the first two are; or the first is terrific, the second meh, and the third a hopeless mess, probably because Peake (the author) was losing his sanity.
I haven’t managed to read the third volume, but I have read the first two. I liked them, but they’re not for everyone. They’re certainly not as easy a read as Harry Potter, or even The Lord of the Rings. There’s some really wonderful writing, and characters, and action scenes, but there’s also long tedious stretches.
The Gormenghast books are quite possibly my favorite books of all time.
While they may be a bit wordy (and I’ve heard some complain they are slow moving), the characters and setting of the books are well realized and memorable: A chef who’s hands are so fat he has to take a coin just to knock on a door; a countess who always has birds flocking around her; a castle full of arcane, bizarre, and absurd rituals. (Many things still stick with me, though it’s been nearly 10 years since I read them, and I tend to have a short memory for fiction). Peake is possibly the most visual writer I’ve ever read.
I tried watching part of the BBC series a while back, but couldn’t get very far through it because the tone seemed to be way off from my perception of the books.
While I also enjoyed the third book, it is quite different from the first two and receives very mixed reactions. However, IMHO, the first two are absolutely essential.
Weird and gothic and BRILLIANT. Zelazny isn’t even in the same league. Also, please don’t judge Titus Groan and Gormenghast by the mediocre quality of their television adaptations. Sadly, Titus Alone is a dis-jointed mess, written when Peake was dying and pieced together post-humously. Personally (and I know this opinion is controversial), I think Gormenghast is better than Lord of the Rings.
Sure, he’s wordy but he has a flair for prose that far outweighs that of Rowling and his snippets of whimsical poetry rank him up there with Lewis Caroll. The story is toweringly epic and complex with an indelible sense of place and history. His attention the setting of Gormenghast Castle is amazing and provides essential context to the conniving and manoeuvring of the strange central characters. Characters who have clearly been warped by the over-powering presence of their location and weight of history and obligation. This type of depth of characterization and attention to detail is far too rare in modern fantasy.
Highly recommended for people who want a little more substance than usual fantasy provides.
I’ve read them all, and they’re not to my taste. Kafka just gallops along in comparison. You might be doing yourself a favor by not reading the third though - to a certain extent it subverts the first two, and not in a good way.
i will grudgingly admit to having read the trilogy. yes, there are still a few images that will pop up in my mind, once reminded of the series’ existance.
however, it’s also one of the ONLY book series where i felt like demanding my money back from the bookstore, the final installment was such a let-down from the build-up of the first two.
if you like reading vignettes, you’ll probably love it. if you like a whole story, you’re bound to be disappointed.
Greatest literary work? Not greatest fantasy work, but greatest literary work? Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, O’Conner, McCullers, Updike, Roth, Irving, Bellow, Steinbeck, Chabon, Russo, and Proulx are all edged out by Peake and Rowling. Huh? I got nothing against King (in fact I quite like some of his stuff), but he either has a flare for exageration or he needs to expand his reading list.
Well, I could maybe see HP being the greatest literary work of this century (so far), if he meant the 21st. But since Gormenghast isn’t exactly current, I guess he meant the 20th, and… Well, I couldn’t disagree more.
Gormenghast might be “little known” now, but when I first read LOTR in the early 1970s, you had it side by side with Peake (and E.R.R. Eddison, too – talk about “little known” these days) It wasn’t at all obscure back then.
heck, I’ve got Gormenghast calendar illustrations from back then, just like the Tolkien calendars.
Frankly, I don’t think Gormenghast is “little known” now. While it isn’t the subject of any major fad like Tolkien or the Harry Potter books, it is certainly well-known to many. It hasn’t droped into comparative obscurity like The Worm Otoborous (hope I spelled that right).
I must have tried to read The Worm Ouroboros 17 times as a teen and into my early twenties. Each a failure. I don’t think I got past page 60 or 70 at best.
The Gormenghast Trilogy I got through the first and partway into the second before more or less abandoning them. In contrast to Eddison, I did enjoy them somewhat, however they can move slowwwww…and I ended up putting off finishing the second volume repeatedly, until after a few years my copies disappeared in a move. I probably should replace them and give it another try. I might appreciate the imagery and sly/absurdist humour a bit more now that I’m a little more seasoned.
I would surely classify Titus Groan as one of the ten greatest novels I’ve ever read, but I do understand why it’s an acquired taste. To enjoy it, one needs to appreciate lavish, archaic prose; extremely detailed descriptions; gloriously gothic settings; and very off-beat, British humor. There is a definite plot in these books, but you have to be prepared for long passages that divulge from the story. Peake loves to describe everything in his setting to help build up the atmosphere. Some of the best writing is in those scenes, particularly the kitchen scenes at the start. The action parts are somewhat like watching Warner Brothers cartoons in prose: outrageously funny because they’re nonsense but they make perfect sense to the characters.