Mervyn Peake’s epic Gormenghast fantasy trilogy is a trilogy no more. Rumours of a fourth novel circulated for years but were always just rumours. In January 2010 the granddaughter of Peake’s widow found a complete manuscript that her mother, Maeve Gilmore, had written in the 1970s based on notes Mervyn Peake had written before dying at the age of 57 from Parkinson's Disease. The results of Gilmore’s labour have since been edited and will now appear, just in time for the centenary of the author’s birth, as Titus Awakes.
Peake (1911-1968) was a writer, artist, illustrator and poet. He achieved little popular success during his life although he counted Dylan Thomas and Graham Greene amongst his fans. Peake’s magnum opus is the Gormenghast series. He intended for the series to be a lengthy fantasy cycle focused on an isolated kingdom that surrounded the mammoth castle on top of Gormenghast Mountain. However his early death meant he only had time to complete the first three novels (Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone) and also a novella called Boy in Darkness.
Part of the appeal of the Gormenghast series is that it is very different when compared to other early fantasy series. Unlike his peers, Peake included no magic or non-human races in his writing, nor did he ever make it clear that Gormenghast was located on Earth or any other world, leaving both options open to interpretation.
Additionally the series reveals the social structure of Gormenghast Castle as a whole rather than concentrating on a single protagonist. The first two novels take place almost entirely within the walls of this massive structure that some citizens never seem to leave. The third novel, Titus Alone, does break from this pattern and follows the more typical plot having the Earl of Gormenghast travel to a land far from his home. The Earl finds a futuristic world of advanced technology – Peake seems to have written a Steampunk novel long before the Steampunk genre was invented.
In addition to his Gormenghast legacy, Peake also wrote poetry and other stories, and was an accomplished illustrator having brought to life the stories of Lewis Carroll (Hunting of the Snark, Alice in Wonderland), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Rime of the Ancient Mariner) and Robert Louis Stevenson (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).