edited March 2008 in Story Games
Just been watching a BBC programme about fantasy fiction. After the inevitable Tolkien yadayadayada this guy Mervyn Peake and his Gormenghast trilogy pops up. Turns out he was an artist as well, and in the army he did official drawings of Buchenwald victims.

I had no idea Peake or his trilogy existed. It sounds like cool and really dark stuff. Why hasn't his works been embraced in games, any ideas? And please tell me more about Gormenghast.


  • edited March 2008
    I haven't read the books, but the BBC serialised Gormenghast.

  • edited March 2008
    I think Peakes work has exerted an influence, to a certain extent. He's just not as much in the general consciousness as, for example, Tolkein. Then again, I do love his stuff (not just the Gormenghast books, but the like of Mr Pye as well). The evocation of the ancient structures and strictures of life in the castle of Gormenghast is wonderful, full what are almsot little, inconsequential asides about certain things (the Poet, for example) that reappear later on. And there is the sudden switch-around and strangeness (over and above the pervasive strangeness) of the final book, Titus Alone. Unfinished and written while the man was dying, it's possibly my favourite out of the three books: incomplete, odd, but full of wondrous imagery and characters that come to life with the briefest of descriptions.

    Me? A Mervyn Peake fanboy? Never! I have to say, though, the BBC serialisation was Gormenghast: The Pantomime. It didn't sit well with me.

  • Thanks. And yes, the TV version looks truly awful.
  • Gormenghast is fantastic. It has fed into roleplaying games - a/state's got a lot of Peake in it, and I'd also argue that 40k does too. Any ludicrously baroque, outdated, hidebound culture or rambling megastructure can draw on Peake's imagery.
  • edited March 2008
    Mervyn Peake is one of my favorites, but he is a specific taste, and this is why he's not more widely known and why his work is not more widely embraced -- either by readers in general or gamers specifically.

    Gormenghast is set in a ancient castle so large there are corridors no on one has visited in ages, and communities on one side of the building that have no contact with those on the other side. The place is run on ritual and by secret alliances between cooks and butlers and royalty. The characters are as broad and specific as those of Dickens, but Dickens by way of David Cronenberg or Jim Henson. The details (of the castle, the characters) are as specific and rubbery as early Disney animation (which makes sense, considered it's Peake who is writing it), but it also feels very grounded at the same time.

    But it is slow. Peake writes like an artist who is painting with words. He will carefully describe the shadow in a room for three quarters of a page before getting back to what nominally passes for the story of the books. The best way to illustrate this is to point at that the three books are first three books in what was planned to be a long series of books about the new heir to Gormenghast, Titus, and his life in the castle. It should be noted that Titus is not until the end of the first book is Titus born. Like I said, slow.

    His work is imaginative, emotional, and often keen about the strangeness of human behavior.

    His children's book, Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor was a touchstone of my childhood. I still have that same tattered copy I read in my youth, having now carried it for two decades and through five moves back and forth across the United States.

    His collection of works, Peake's Progress, contains poems, stories and a novella called, "Boy in Darkness." It is creepy and strange and evocative and is about an adventure Titus has when he slips out of Gormanghast as a boy. There is no connection made between the the tale and the novels, but it actually takes place during the time of the second Gormenghast book. I read it thinking Gormenghast was strange -- and then I read this and it blew all the weirdness of Gormenghast out of the water.

    I consider Peake's work like the work of many directors and writers I like: I love it, but I don't go running around telling everyone they should see Videodrome or The Way of the Gun. He's a writer that will have his fans, but certaily will not be for everyone.

  • I found the BBC production of Gormenghast beautiful. It is definitely a Fantastic "Hamlet." I keep meaning to read the books, but have not got around to it quite yet.

    The making of documentary was fascinating as well.
  • It think that Peake is less well know than JRR T. because, well, because he's odder and less heroic. JRR is epic fairy tale, and we all grew up on fairy tales.

    Peake is darker and more surreal. The folks I know who've read his work either adore it or just thinks its odd.

    I can't say about gaming specifically but I know that authors Michael Moorcock and China Mieville are big fans.
  • I'm another Peake fan.

    I'm with Mickey in thinking the BBC version was not bad. It's not the same thing as the novels, and that might make it hard to swallow for some people, but it was a good thing in its own right.

    You've kind of got to approach the books as if you've never read a fantasy novel before. They're totally different, they tantalise you with juicy bits of story and setting, but it's always in the background of descriptions of the castle. The whole first book reads almost like a love-letter to the castle. The characters are pretty short on redeeming features, and often nothing seems to happen. It's baroque, slow, and intricate.
  • Peake was a far better writer than Tolkien. And roleplaying games have traditionally leant heavily on B-grade writers. I do not think the Gormeghast books have anything for the vast majority of roleplayers, who adore things they already know.
  • Peake is wonderful. Takes time to read, though. I wish I'd discovered him earlier in my life.
  • The characters and descriptions are really good, but I find Gormenghast needlessly complicated and utterly boring, on the level of The Lord of the Ring's appendixes. I would not recommend it.
  • Posted By: Per FischerI had no idea Peake or his trilogy existed. It sounds like cool and really dark stuff. Why hasn't his works been embraced in games, any ideas? And please tell me more about Gormenghast.
    Not read Gormenghast! Aieeee!

    Honestly they are hard going but they are wonderful books, the first especially. (the second and third are not bad, but they are not as evocative). Even Kafka doesn't quite capture the horror of stifling ritual and needless custom as well as Peake.

    I'm glad to see Malcolm posting here as well. I hadn't been thinking of Gormenghast as an influence on a|state, but it makes perfect sense to me now. Was it something that was in your mind Malcolm?

    I didn't mind the TV serial either
  • Mytholder is far too modest... and fails to mention his Ronnies entry Dragons of Blood and Water, which is very Peake influenced and which I would like to see developed further!
  • Posted By: Per FischerThanks. And yes, the TV version looks truly awful.
    Don't be decieved. It's good stuff well worth watching.

    I thought some books referenced it for influence, but I might just be thinking of a friend's game where he cited its influence on his game. Maybe Exalted: Dragonblood (1E) listed it as a reference.

    I definitely see some influence in Hero's Banner, although I'm not sure if that is from Tim's design or just my reading.
  • Posted By: Hituro

    I'm glad to see Malcolm posting here as well. I hadn't been thinking of Gormenghast as an influence on a|state, but it makes perfect sense to me now. Was it something that was in your mind Malcolm?

    I didn't mind the TV serial either
    Yes, Gar is quite correct in his assertion, the Gormenghast books were a pretty substantial influence on a lot of stuff that went in to a|state. The oddness/strangeness of Gormenghast as a physical thing, coupled with the disturbing familiarity of certain elements is something that I really wanted to capture. Sadly, I'm nowhere near as competent a writer as Peake! If only I was.

    And for all of you saying that the TV version is acceptable: I don't care if you think you are right, you are wrong. Wrong in a way that goes beyond simple wrongness into whole realms of wrong as yet unexplored by mortal man. Wrong, I say!

    I should probably go for a lie down in a darkened room now.

  • I'm a big fan too, saw a great piece of physical theatre at Battersea based on it last year.

    The TV version didn't really do it for me either, mainly because Steerpike was wrong.
  • Some years ago, James Wallis offered a bounty to any game designer who could build an RPG (or proto-RPG or art game, as he was wont to publish in those days) worthy of the Gormenghast license.

  • FWIW, I ordered the trilogy on abebooks.co.uk. That just adds to the shitload of books on my to-read list.

    Who's James Wallis, Paul?
  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: Per FischerWho's James Wallis, Paul?

    And I mean that in a totally non-judgemental way. You're just making me feel old.

    First thing that came up on Google: http://www.ogrecave.com/interviews/jameswallis.shtml

  • Ah, that one. I have to admit that I was never hugely informed about the British scene, especially not name-wise. I did play WFRP in the good old days (late 80s, early 90s) but had moved on before Hogshead was formed.
  • He's just some guy who burnt a barge one time, and published a few books.
  • Hey Steve, I saw that adaptation too. It was great, no? Grotesque and beautiful, just like the books. Or rather, book, as I've only read the first. Others have nailed it: it's lonely, social fantasy, coupled with the huge, rich, funny and sad characters in the vein of Dickens and to rival, well, anything. To have two servants duel around the body of their sleepwalking master and for you to believe in, and care about it, was a clap my hands in public moment when reading...
    but you may have to gather your energy in between them, as Peak writes with terrific care and no hurry. I've still got to get into Gormenghast...
  • Sorry for a bit of necromancy, but - http://www.therpgsite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7037
  • Posted By: HituroEven Kafka doesn't quite capture the horror of stifling ritual and needless custom as well as Peake.
    Reading the TLS this week, I learned that Peake grew up in Tianjin, in China, near the Forbidden City: apparently the rituals of Gormenghast owe something to the rituals that grew up around the Emperor. Makes sense, but it also completely changes the feel of the books.
  • It takes an hour to drive from Tianjin to Beijing, where the Forbidden City is, so that's not so close. Still, it's interesting that he grew up in China. It's easy to see, then, where he got the idea for a giant, closed-in micro-city where people on one side didn't know what people on the other were up to.
  • I like Peake.

    Gormenghast has inspired the "sentient palaces" of the fantasy world in my frpg Fabula (Norwegian, published 1999).
  • An hour's really not so far.
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