November 5, 2018 6:49 AM   Subscribe

Erin Groans: A Gormenvast Review of Every Adaptation of Mervyn Peake's Titus Books: Erin Horáková has written a review of (nearly) every adaptation of Mervyn Peake's series of fantasy books, commonly called the Gormenghast trilogy. Published by the fantasy and science fiction magazine Strange Horizons as part of their 2018 fund drive, this covers theatre adaptations, board games, radio plays and television mini-series, both the BBC one (in wonderful detail) and the forthcoming Neil Gaiman adaptation.

"Oh, you gentlest readers—oh, you fragile, quivering doves: this is something I have long intended to do to you I mean for you. And finally, FINALLY, due to some fools having generously donated $9,000, ALMOST A FULL DARCY-ANNUM UNIT, I can bring you a review of every adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books, not ranked because that’s a rubbish critical apparatus and this isn’t fucking Buzzfeed."

"But perhaps you have not read the books? Or perhaps you have, but would like a refresher? Why, this very morning, in anticipation of your needs, I have collated my read-along tweets. We can experience these books together, virtually, and have a Gormen-blast."

Does not include songs, pictures, Maeve Gilmore's Titus Awakes, fanfic, parodies, strongly influenced texts, novelised Classic Doctor Who paracanon or adaptations Horáková could not get access to.


1. Gormenghast, a 1998 rock opera by Irmin Schmidt

2. Gormenghast, a 1992 play by John Constable for the David Glass Ensemble at the Battersea Arts Centre

3. Boy in Darkness, a 2015 play written and performed by Gareth Murphy at the Blue Elephant Theatre in collaboration with the Peake estate

Radio Plays

4. Titus Groan and Gormenghast, two 1984 plays by Brian Sibley for the BBC

5. The History of Titus Groan, a 2011 Classic Serial by Brian Sibley for the BBC


6. The Web, a 1987 short animated film directed by Joan Ashworth

7. Gormenghast, the 2000 miniseries directed by Andy Wilson and written by Malcolm McKay for the BBC
Board Game

8. Gormenghast: The Board Game, designed by Philip Cooke


9. Gormenghast Castle Automata, by Keith Newstead


10. Gormenghast, the forthcoming miniseries created by Neil Gaiman and Akiva Goldsman for FreemantleMedia

posted by ocular shenanigans (21 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
If you're curious about the '84 version with Sting, looks like the Internet Archive has both parts.
posted by Iridic at 7:01 AM on November 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Wow, make sure you read to the end. The author gets extremely apt when explaining why she expects little more than a mediocre, apolitical pantomime from Gaiman.
Gaiman could probably do a good job with this project if he took some risks, but he’s not stretched himself for years. People want him to produce a given flavour of predictable soft-hitting Gloomth, and so he will, and they will like it, and he will like having pleased people, which is natural enough, because none of this is even precisely his fault. This is what auteur production and thinking leads to. It promises artists more control while actually, via several forms of the exercise of soft power, offering less. The more popular an artist gets, the more money is given to, or rather invested in them to produce products with. The more money is involved in projects, the more cautious and risk-averse capital forces become. At the very moment when an artist gains the personal financial stability, craft mastery, resources, and audience to justify taking creative or political risks, the forces of hegemony kick in hard. The system works as it’s supposed to, as it is in fact designed to. (At a certain level of sophistication, even in the absence of a discrete and identifiable agent, it becomes unwieldy and even irresponsible not to speak of systematic and intentional agency when reckoning with the mechanisms of late capitalism.)

Of course this exchange has profound effects on its human components. Fame and money don’t just “change people,” a whole fame-industrial complex sets about estranging artists from the potential to be disruptive in exchange for resources, access, and often even critical or academic markers of worthiness. It would take someone with particular life experiences and firmly held beliefs to resist these strong drag-forces, and frankly we shouldn’t even class the ability to do so as heroic. Artistic or political “heroism,” rightly understood, are accidents of circumstance. Or, if we want to frame the question in a more proactive light, they are the precipitates of supportive political/artistic communities, fellowships that enable different ways of thinking and behaviour and shore up enduring links of solidarity. A key task before us is seeking, forming, and developing such networks and resources, and developing new systems of production and distribution aimed at promoting the livelihood of artists, enabling solidarity and resisting the artistically and politically destructive tendencies of late capital.
posted by Iridic at 7:18 AM on November 5, 2018 [29 favorites]

@Iridic: Hell yes, both for letting loose on Gaiman - who really has been coasting for years, his Norse Mythology felt like it had plagiarised a wikipedia article - but auteur theory in the British media establishment more generally. "Randomly casting brown people in positions of privilege makes British Empire texts good again, baby. Awoo."

Also veering out to dunk on the edgelord provocateurs of the more openly conservative parts of the British media like the Spectator is good and should be encourgaed as a feature of more reviews: "I feel the purest, strongest urge to dunk this nerd like a basketball." Indeed.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 7:25 AM on November 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

Or, if we want to frame the question in a more proactive light, they are the precipitates of supportive political/artistic communities, fellowships that enable different ways of thinking and behaviour and shore up enduring links of solidarity.

For some reason, this makes me think of Thomas Piketty scornfully refusing the Legion of Honor.
posted by praemunire at 7:55 AM on November 5, 2018

I don't have much to comment because I'm at work so I can't read any of the juicy links atm, but YAY A POST ABOUT GORMENGHAST! I'm pumped to come back to this later today.
posted by littlesq at 7:55 AM on November 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

On reflection Breaking Bad was the best Gormenghast adaptation.
posted by muddgirl at 8:22 AM on November 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

There was a boardgame?

Hang on, I'll be right back.
posted by Mogur at 8:49 AM on November 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I really appreciate the heck out of this compilation. It never occurred to me that I need a BBC radio play with Sting playing Steerpike in my life, but I totally do. Also I am 100% behind the author's crusade to get producers to film their stage plays!
posted by muddgirl at 8:57 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

This aside totally intrigues me: early modern English Shakespeare audiences didn’t even walk in a way we’d recognise as normal, and it does come up in contemporary plays. There's no reference, though.
posted by Mogur at 9:00 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Erin Horáková is totally great and brilliant. She has been on the Blue before, for her lengthy piece on how everything we remember about Captain Kirk is wrong.
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:13 AM on November 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I can't resist.

Metafilter: precipitates of supportive political/artistic communities, fellowships that enable different ways of thinking and behaviour and shore up enduring links of solidarity.
posted by emmet at 11:07 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

To be honest, 'Metafilter: Letting loose on Gaiman' would be more accurate.
posted by howfar at 11:42 AM on November 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sting? But Steerpike starts out as 17 years old. Sting was 33 in 1984.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:19 PM on November 5, 2018

Horáková addresses that problem with all of the adaptations - no one double or even triple casts Steerpike. On the other hand, how does time work in Gormenghast?
posted by muddgirl at 1:45 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

While the production may get stuck in development hell due to my wishing very hard, just as I have cursed the last six attempts to remake Blakes 7 (or for other, unrelated reasons), it may indeed come to pass. And it would be just another adaptation, I suppose. It wouldn’t be an active unmaking of everything good in an evolving multi-authorial text like, say, Moffat-era Doctor Who. We would probably survive.

And that's when I realised I was going to read and thoroughly enjoy every word of this piece.
posted by andraste at 2:14 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Gormenghast was a conceptual influence on 70s early Split Enz, and I could guess that Phill Judd may have been pondering a song cycle based on the work. There are several tracks on their first album 'Mental Notes' that relate to the ethos, particularly the haunting 'Titus'.
posted by ovvl at 2:59 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

This article is long, languid, opinionated, weakly structured, discursive and totally awesome. It mirrors its subject like Cora and Clarice.

Any adaptation of Gormenghast has to decide what the books are about. It's an impossible decisions, because the books are about many things. Change, decay, upheaval, the brittleness of rigid social structures, rebellion, betrayal, rebirth, death.

But most of all, the books are a triumph of language. The very first paragraphsets the bar, and any adaptation has to clear it.
"Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of 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 neighbor until, held back by the
castle ramparts, the innermost of these hovels laid hold on the great
walls, clamping themselves thereto like limpets of a rock. These dwellings,
by ancient law, were granted the 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 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."
It's hard to see where an adaptation can go from there. The language has already won.
posted by Combat Wombat at 4:12 PM on November 5, 2018 [11 favorites]

The language has already won.

Indeed it has.

I was about fifteen when I first encountered Titus, if I recall correctly. I was then and am still a voracious reader, and I was about fourteen pages in when I realized that I had no fucking clue what was going on and would have to go back to the start and do it again slowly.

The Titus books are long, and the correct pace to take them at makes them much, much longer. Peake's prose is dense. Not in the sense of being in any way unapproachably impenetrable; more in the sense of being best appreciated in small mouthfuls with frequent pauses for savouring and reflection, like a perfectly brandied Christmas pudding.

No adaptation that gets one to the end of the stories any faster than Peake does could possibly be anywhere near as good as what he wrote in the first place.
posted by flabdablet at 5:29 PM on November 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

Honestly, I tried and bounced off these books so hard, I still may have a scar. I remember it being like Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Gormenghast” in it’s WTF-itude.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:14 PM on November 7, 2018

What was your reading rate? Mine is usually anywhere from one to two pages per minute for general fiction. For Titus I had to fall back to about three to five minutes per page in order to find the rhythm of the thing.

There's a lot going on in each sentence.
posted by flabdablet at 2:59 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Then again, I do love me some Beckett.
posted by flabdablet at 3:03 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Fanciful musings on the backstory of Cohen's...   |   AI's elves live in Kenya and twiddle your captcha Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments