SLYTHERIN: “The world closed in on him, its weapons drawn, eager for his death. And it was for him to outwit the world. It was the simplest and most fundamental of all games.” -Mervyn Peake (Gormenghast)
The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.
Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?
We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.
They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.
Steerpike was, of course, alive with ideas and projects. These two half-witted women were a gift…And in any case, the lower the mentality of his employers the more scope for his own projects.
When a system stagnates, evil blossoms. When there is no hope of equality, those who would advance grow crafty. And when a society has grown bloated and cracked while all pretend nothing is wrong, monsters will seep through the cracks and split them wide open. Such is the case with Gormenghast, an isolated castle whose inhabitants shun (in fact, do not even know) the outside world, and cling to traditions they no longer understand for reasons they have long forgotten. The monster who comes to destroy them is named Steerpike, and he is both a force of sin in his own right and the society’s natural consequence.
Perhaps, some critics have suggested, if Steerpike were an American character he might have been a hero. What do we admire more than a poor boy who rises in the world through hard work and ingenuity? But this abused kitchen boy who charms and manipulates his way to the top doesn’t really dream of equality, no matter how much he speaks of it. What he really dreams of is a simple shift in power, with him in a position to torment and exploit the innocent and the guilty alike. And if he can’t get it, he’ll tear the castle apart stone by stone, body by body.
Is there more to him than wickedness? Perhaps. He does seem to care for Lady Fuschia, a target of his schemes, but not so greatly that he will hold back from manipulating her (up to and including a sadistic plan to ensure marriage, which he thankfully never has a chance to realize.) We may pity Steerpike for his circumstance (which were indeed terrible) and agree with him that something in Gormenghast needs to change, but that doesn’t alter the fact that his conscience has long since atrophied from disuse. Cruel, grandiose and compelling, he’s one of the best villain protagonists in all of speculative fiction. Just try reading the last book in the series, without him, and see how much you care about the viewpoint character in comparison…
This is chronologically the first picture to be completed. I like the feel of solidity that line work can bring to a painting. It’s very easy for digital art to have this floating, blurred look - I’m consciously trying to avoid this. My method here is to choose a focal point (in this case, the Earl’s Face) and work on refining and sharpening outwards from it.
It was a night that seemed to prove by the consolidation of its darkness and its silence the hopelessness of any further dawn. There was no such thing as dawn. It was an invention of the night’s or of the old-wives of the night–a fable, immemorially old–recounted century after century in the eternal darkness; retold and retold to the gnomic children in the tunnels and the caves of Gormenghast–a tale of another world where such things happened, where stones and bricks and ivy stems and iron could be seen as well as touched and smelt, could be lit and coloured, and where at certain times a radiance shone like honey from the east and the blackness was scaled away, and this thing they called dawn arose above the woods as though the fable had materialized, the legend come to life.
“Cat room,” said Flay, putting his hand to the iron knob of the door.
“Oh,” said Steerpike, thinking hard and repeating “Cat room” to fill in time, for he saw no reason for the remark. The only interpretation he could give to the ejaculation was that Flay was referring to him as a cat and asking to be given more room. Yet there had been no irritation in the voice.
“Cat room,” said Flay again, ruminatively, and turned the iron doorknob. He opened the door slowly and Steerpike, peering past him, found no longer any need for an explanation.
A room was filled with the late sunbeams. Steerpike stood quite still, a twinge of pleasure running through his body. He grinned. A carpet filled the floor with blue pasture. Thereon were seated in a hundred decorative attitudes, or stood immobile like carvings, or walked superbly across their sapphire setting, inter-weaving with each other like a living arabesque, a swarm of snow-white cats.
As Mr. Flay passed down the centre of the room, Steerpike could not but notice the contrast between the dark rambling figure with his ungainly movements and the monotonous cracking of his knees, the contrast between this and the superb elegance and silence of the white cats. They took not the slightest notice of either Mr. Flay or of himself save for the sudden cessation of their purring. When they had stood in the darkness, and before Mr. Flay had removed the bunch of keys from his pocket, Steerpike had imagined he had heard a heavy, deep throbbing, a monotonous sea-like drumming of sound, and he now knew that it must have been the pullulation of the tribe.
As they passed through a carved archway at the far end of the room and had closed the door behind them he heard the vibration of their throats, for now that the white cats were once more alone it was revived, and the deep unhurried purring was like the voice of an ocean in the throat of a shell.