Art and bright carving in Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake

This is a strange, strange world where the Gormenghast castle occupants live in uneasy juxtaposition with the outer-dwellers – a largely despised and tetchy group of people who are astonishingly talented wood carvers. 

Each year the outer-dwellers make a host of bright carvings, three of which are chosen to be placed into the castle museum - a place where hardly anyone ever goes apart from the curator, who sleeps through the days amid a thick layer of protective dust.  All the rest of the carvings are burned.

We know Mervyn Peake appreciated the magic and drama that is embedding in so much making. His poem 'The Glassblowers' shows a sensitivity to the hypnotic power of skilled makers at work. That's what comes through in Gormenghast, and why this book was one of the works that I picked for Craftfinder (now, alas, no more), exploring craft in literature. Although there is more than a hint of romanticism that makes me impatient - there is a suffocating feel about the community in which these the Gormenghast people live. There’s something about how this ritual obsessed society both values and undervalues its art that intrigues me. Are we like this or are we not like this? I can’t decide.

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