I was fifteen when I came across a shabby little paperback entitled Sometime,Never: Three Tales of Imagination by William Golding, John Wyndham and Mervyn Peake. I knew William Golding, of course. Three generations of school children have read Lord of the Flies. And John Wyndham? His novel,Day of the Triffids was the first post-apocalyptic novel I’d read. It’s themes are timeless, if somewhat cozy and well-worn for today’s media. I bought the book for the names I knew ; those authors whose work -for good or ill-had lead my mind into new and fascinating areas of thought.
I didn’t see the literary mine field that was Mervyn Peake’s story, Boy In Darkness. And when I finished reading this small masterpiece, I knew my perception of the world had been changed in a way I would not be able to explain for years to come.
Imagine a stark and surreal religious allegory driven by characters that owe as much to Charles Dickens as Giorgio de Chirico or Salvador Dali. This was Boy In Darkness. I discovered, some years later, that the story was an adjunct to the three Gormenghast novels, Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone. I devoured these works, and understood the respect he received from such friends as Graham Greene and Dylan Thomas, or acquaintances such as C.S. Lewis, who said his works,”…are actual additions to life. they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we have never had before…”
On July 7th of this year, Overlook Press, in conjunction with Mervyn Peake’s widow, Maeve Gilmore, will make the fourth novel in the Gormenghast series,Titus Awake, available to the world. I Challenge all to discover why Mervyn Peake -author,poet and artist- is considered a British national treasure.