“We are all imprisoned by the dictionary. We choose out of that vast, paper-walled prison our convicts, the little black printed words, when in truth we need fresh sounds to utter, new enfranchised noises which would produce a new effect.”
Peake, Mervyn, Titus Groan
Employing the creative wordplay that typifies his work, Peake uses three lines to identify and illuminate the difference between a book that remains with you for as long as it takes to read, and those which, (like Gormenghast,) entrench themselves within your psyche. In short Peake explains the key to his success as a writer, or at least, the critical success of the Gormenghast trilogy. (An important distinction because whilst those brave enough might suggest that Peake’s masterpiece technically surpasses Tolkein’s, only the later one allows you to don pixeled elven garb and traipse Mordor). http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/aug/16/gormenghast-masterpiece-mervyn-peake
Attempting to explain Peake’s ability to create mind altering description, critics have highlighted the writer’s occupation as an illustrator. However, whilst the artist’s eye is undoubtedly advantageous, I feel that Peake is able to drag his readers so wholly into Gormenghast because he is able to fuse together combinations of words and ideas that no other writer would consider. (Or at least none that I’ve read yet).
Hence why i’m aghast that i’ve clocked up almost a quarter century of literature loving life without brushing paths with Meryvn Peake’s Gormenghast Trillogy. For his descriptive abilities alone he should be on the syllabus.(And yeah, I appreciate the irony of using a corny play on words blog title to introduce a post celebrating excellent language use.)
This is how Peake begins to describe Gormenghast:
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.
It’s curious though because whilst I feel enriched as a person and a writer for having read Gormenghast, I simultaneously acknowledge that there’s a lot you could dislike about the trilogy. (Not that any of the following criticisms excuse it for having missed the literary bandwagon). Unlike a lot of popular fiction, the work is not hugely plot driven and the dense layering of description often overwhelms the comparatively sparse dialogue. The characters additionally, one might recognise as pantomime heroes and villains; (the moody teenager, spluttering doctor and depressive king).
However, I’d argue that even the flaws simultaneously work to redeem themselves: Yes, the work is description heavy, but it’s not description in the normal necessary setting the scene sense. This description is made of chunks of art work that you consume it without ever checking how many pages are left. The characters, whilst arguably carved from the same block as stock panto figures, have their oddities so richly detailed and expanded upon that they, like the description, rise above their carving blocks. .
In consequence of my appreciation for the Gormenghast trilogy, I have dedicated a post to this lurking literary gem in order to alert as many people as possible that they need to read it instantly. (Go go go! To the bookstore!) However, if you’re one of the lucky ones whose brain is already creeping past Flay’s sleeping form, help me share the love for a wrongfully neglected masterpiece.