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Titus Groan Hardcover – 1946

4.0 out of 5 stars 120 customer reviews
Book 1 of 4 in the Gormenghast Trilogy Series

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Hardcover, 1946
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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mervyn Peake's gothic masterpiece, the Gormenghast trilogy, begins with the superlative Titus Groan, a darkly humorous, stunningly complex tale of the first two years in the life of the heir to an ancient, rambling castle. The Gormenghast royal family, the castle's decidedly eccentric staff, and the peasant artisans living around the dreary, crumbling structure make up the cast of characters in this engrossing story. Peake's command of language and unique style set the tone and shape of an intricate, slow-moving world of ritual and stasis:
The walls of the vast room which were streaming with calid moisture, were built with gray slabs of stone and were the personal concern of a company of eighteen men known as the 'Grey Scrubbers'.... On every day of the year from three hours before daybreak until about eleven o'clock, when the scaffolding and ladders became a hindrance to the cooks, the Grey Scrubbers fulfilled their hereditary calling.
Peake has been compared to Dickens, Tolkien, and Peacock, but Titus Groan is truly unique. Unforgettable characters with names like Steerpike and Prunesquallor make their way through an architecturally stifling world, with lots of dark corners around to dampen any whimsy that might arise. This true classic is a feast of words unlike anything else in the world of fantasy. Those who explore Gormenghast castle will be richly rewarded. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this illustrated Gothic trilogy, a young heir matures within the confines of bleak Gormenghast castle. Volume three includes 12 critical essays and Peake's unfinished Titus Awakes .
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 438 pages
  • Publisher: Reynal & Hitchcock (1946)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0007J2A3O
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,062,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John L. Velonis on December 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read the Gormenghast Trilogy for the first time when I was in high school, some eighteen years ago, and while many of the scenes and the overall mood remained in my memory, I completely missed most of the humor and beauty in the writing itself, as I discovered when recently rereading Titus Groan. The sonorous, skewed beauty of the language demands to be read slowly and savored as prose poetry -- I read only a few pages a day over several months. Take a passage like the following:
"Suns and the changing of the seasonal moons; the leaves from trees that cannot keep their leaves, and the fish from olive waters have their voices! ... Stones have their voices and the quills of birds; the anger of the thorns, the wounded spirits, the antlers, ribs that curve, bread, tears and needles. Blunt boulders and the silence of cold marshes -- these have their voices -- the insurgent clouds, the cockerel and the worm. ... Voices that grind at night from lungs of granite. Lungs of blue air and the white lungs of rivers. All voices haunt all moments of all days; all voices fill the crannies of all regions."
If you find this sort of thing boring, by all means skip this book. This has almost nothing to do with either Tolkien or his less skilled successors who churn out a 500-page volume every six months. I think it has more in common with a book like Moby Dick (which I have been advised not to read until I reach forty years of age), in that it demands that the reader relate the text to his own experience of life and literature.
Many of the characters are grotesque parodies, but as with other masters of satire, Peake's exaggeration rings truer to life than a more "realistic" depiction would.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Titus Groan is often mentioned with Lord of the Rings and incorrectly categorized as epic fantasy. This is a gothic drama. The story revolves around a dysfunctional, simple minded, royal family that adheres to archaic traditions. Trouble ensues when an ambitious youth manipulates them in a grab for power. Titus Groan could have been a short story. Weighing in at 400 pages, with 350 pages of deeply poetic detail, you should only read it if you like authors like Charles Dickens. If you're a fan of richly detailed descriptions, you'll probably enjoy this book. In order to help you figure out if you'd appreciate Titus Groan, I've made a simple quiz:

1) Which description do you prefer?
A - Making use of the miniature and fluted precipice of hard, white discoloured flesh, where Fuchsia's teeth had left their parallel grooves, he bit greedily, his top teeth severing the wrinkled skin of the pear, and the teeth of his lower jaw entering the pale cliff about halfway up its face; they met in the secret and dark centre of the fruit - in that abactinal region where, since the petals of the pear flower had been scattered in some far June breeze, a stealthy and profound maturing had progressed by day and night. As he bit, for the second time, into the fruit his weakness filled him again as with a thin atmosphere, and he carefully lowered himself face down over the table until he had recovered strength to continue his clandestine meal. (+50 Points)
B - Steelpike bit into Fuchsia's pear. It was yummy. (0 Points)

2) For every one of these words that you know, give yourself 5 points.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Titus Groan is impossible to classify. Is it fantasy? Is it gothic? Is it a Dickensian flight of fancy? Well it's been classified as all of these things, but none of these labels is quite adequate. It is perhaps ultimately best described as a black comedy. The book begins with the birth of the 77th Earl of Gormenghast, a gigantic castle were ritual rules all. Gormenghast castle seems to exist in an alternative universe to ours; however, there is no magic or cuddly hobbits, just grim realism.
The plot chronicles the ramifications of when the royal family and servants encounter Steerpike, a young kitchen worker who finagles his out of kitchen service (most jobs in the castle are assigned along heriditary lines). A self-possessed rebel and clever 17-year-old, Steerpike turns their world upside down. Steerpike is like many people you may know, manipulative, self-serving, and solicitous. However, the royal family and servants are so exceedingly self-occupied, that they are easily tricked by this young upstart. Steerpike may just be the most likeable villian ever; it's hard to blame him for the things he does considering the easy targets he selects.
The book is packed with other extremely memorable characters, including the sullen royal daughter (Fuschia), the Countess who seems to care only about her "pets," innumerable wild birds and and white cats, and her sisters-in-law, the identical twins (Cora and Clarice) who are the primary pawns of Steerpike. The book also provides splendid details about the castles and its world, not surprising considering that Peake is perhaps best known as an illustrator (a few of his illustrations are included here). The writing is dense and ponderous at times, but provides so many laughs and pleasures, that it is well worth the time investment. Of course, Titus Groan is just the first part of an epic. I have not read the remaining two books yet, but am tremendously excited to do. A most highly recommended read.
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