Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Peake Performance

Charles recently forwarded me this link to the Mervyn Peake website hosted by Peake's son, Sebastian. I dropped by to check it out, and came away more impressed than ever with the eclectic talents of Peake, a writer whose work initially confounded me. My first shot at Gormenghast left me wondering exactly what Peake was attempting; I could tell that the effort was ambitious and distinctive, but I had become so accustomed to more traditional linear fantasy storytelling that I had trouble warming up to Peake's more complex, mazelike structure. Once I got into the book, though, I was entranced; In some ways, he constructs an engaging vision of medieval quasi-reality that perfectly complements more traditional period pieces like Perceval and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Peake, though, uses words as M.C. Escher uses images, to create a puzzling and paradoxical narrative that just fascinated me the first time I read it, and still fascinates me to this day.

The edition of Gormenghast pictured above is the edition that I actually read way back there more than a third of a century ago. It's the cover of the Ballantine edition; it became a part of my collection because I was a Ballantine Adult Fantasy completist (this series, collecting classics of fantasy that would appeal to adult readers before the phrase "adult fantasy" conjured up images from a Penthouse letters column) and one edition of these books carried that circle-with-a-unicorn-head symbol that Ian & Betty Ballantine used as the BAF symbol. Being always the completist, I picked up those editions with no intention of reading them; during a time when nothing else particularly appealed to me, though, I picked up the first book, gave it a try, and put it down. I never put it out of mind, though, and was drawn back to it later on, whereupon I discovered its appeal.

I never cared for any of the performances of Peake's work that have been done in film, because so much of what makes Peake work for me is his prose, not his plotting. Like Lovecraft, his work has never translated fully well to film as far as I'm concerned. But oh, what wonderful books they are!...

The website also made me aware of Peake's skills as a visual artist; I was largely unaware he was so versatile and adept at painting and drawing, but want to see more of his illlustrative work.

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