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Boy in Darkness by Mervyn Peake
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'tis the season...


Boy in Darkness is a short story that takes place between the second and third books of the Gormenghast trilogy. ah, Gormenghast, one of my favorite things! but the horrific atmosphere and the ambiguously allegorical nature of this story make it quite a thing apart. something that is strange and haunting and wonderful. ah, Boy in Darkness, one of my favorite things!

14-year old Titus Groan (although he is known only as "the Boy" in this tale), Earl of Gormenghast, has reached his birthday thoroughly tired and contemptuous of all the meaningless symbolic rituals of his labyrinthine world. staring up at the mildew patterns on his ceiling - his own private vision of an archipelago to be explored - and seeing a fly move freely about, he is inspired to run away. and so he does, away from the castle and into an alien landscape, by way of a turgid river (Styx?) and guided by a pack of evil dogs (the Hounds of Hell?). in this greyishly bleak and blasted place he encounters two man-beasts, the unctuous and dirty Goat and the vicious and violent Hyena. he is taken by them to a dark underworld of mines and looming, forgotten industrial structures, to their diabolic master: a cruel and sadistic beast with the hands of a chubby human babe and the angelic voice of a sweet cherub: the blind and blindingly white Lamb:
"White. White as foam when the moon is full on the sea; white as the white of a child's eye; or the brow of a dead man; white as a sheeted ghost: Oh, white as wool. Bright wool... white wool... in half a million curls... seraphic in its purity and softness... the raiment of the Lamb.

And all about it swam the darkness that shifted to the flicker of the candle flames."
the sightless Lamb can see into a human, see what beastly shape lies within, and so transform them. and then they die, in beast form. the Lamb has devastated his entire world, and so rules over a dead and blighted kingdom. he wants... new toys. fortunately for Titus, the lad has a brain in his head and a chip of granite in his heart, and so proves a capable match for these nightmarish creatures.

Sometime, Never

here are some things that i love: fairy tales, myths, legends, allegories, parables... stories that live in more than one world, more than one dimension. stories with such ambiguity that they can mean many things and yet still entertain as pure narrative. is Peake offering a savage critique of Christianity in his use of the Lamb? what does it mean that the humans of this world die so painfully when transformed into their beastly inner nature? why have Goat and Hyena survived? and why is the Lamb identified so closely with mines and with dead industrial landscapes? i do not know. but i have my theories!

here is something i love: an idiosyncratic author who knows how to write. who truly loves words, the sound of them, the stringing of them together into strange and evocative sentences that carry levels of meaning. an author with wit and tenderness and ruthlessness and a desire to move beyond the mundane. an author that challenges his reader to a game that he has created. the phrase "gothic comedy of manners" barely describes the Gormenghast novels, just as the word "dreamlike" does not even begin to describe this story. Peake creates worlds within worlds within worlds with his prose.

here is something i love: a thing that raises the hairs, causes tingles and chills, inspires a shapeless sort of dread, that has a sinister and menacing wonder to it. swoon.

here is something i love: Cecily's bookshelf on Mervyn Peake:

here is something i love: a perhaps minor but nevertheless perfectly conceived and executed little story called Boy in Darkness.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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William Herschel Excellent. Now I MUST read this again.

message 2: by knig (new)

knig Is everyone gearing up for Halloween? I see loads of 'terror' being imbibed just now all over GR

message 3: by Kaethe (new) - added it

Kaethe I am, Knig. I love to get my All Hallow's Read scare on.

mark monday thanks William!

Knig... yes!

Cecily What a delightfully passionate review.

It's interesting that you noted classical Greek analogies where I saw Christian ones (though you mention Christian themes, later). There is so much to this story.

(And thanks for the name drop - and I'm glad you enjoyed the book - and bookshelf.)

mark monday thank you Cecily.

and yeah, that i suppose you could say flexibility of interpretation is one of the things that has made me return to this one repeatedly. and of course the brilliant language.

message 7: by Agnieszka (last edited Nov 03, 2013 02:51AM) (new) - added it

Agnieszka At first I thought Titus was a trilogy. Then turned out there was one more book. And now this.
Wonders will never cease.

mark monday the story is definitely a thing apart from the series. and it is well worth a read!

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