Lovers of Mervyn Peake’s unique fantasy trilogy Gormenghast are notoriously touchy, protective and defensive about this literary treasure. First, the series exists sadly only in a damaged state, its third volume not completed properly due to the author’s degeneration from Parkinson’s. Second, as the “other” seminal fantasy trilogy from mid-twentieth century, Peake’s masterpiece has always played the underdog to Tolkien’s. Fans and critics are prone to rhapsodize about what commercial fantasy fiction might look like nowadays, if only Peake had triumphed over his Inkling rival.
So news that the manuscript of a fourth book in the series, Titus Awakes, had been found was immediately greeted across the internet with trepidation and concern. Especially when it was learned that the work flowed exclusively from the pen of Peake’s wife, Maeve, who had no prior fiction track record and was inspired by a mere “page and a half of fragmented notes” left to her by her husband. Maeve Peake’s involvement with her husband’s vision might have approached collaborative status while he lived, for all we know, but the novel is still not by Mervyn himself.
Until publication, we have only the word of son Sebastian that the sequel honors the original. Rather like the recent controversy centering on Nabokov’s The Original of Laura, heirs might be bowing to the lure of a legend, rather than the sheer quality of the work.
-PAUL DI FILIPPO