Old wor(l)ds revisited

Excellent news: My paper proposal for the Images of Identity conference in Zurich has been accepted!

So what I’ll be working on in the weeks to come is a revisitation of one of my favourite literary places: Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. His Titus books (or Gormenghast novels, whichever you prefer) were the topic of my master thesis, and I hope to combine my old conclusions with new discoveries.

If you haven’t read Mervyn Peake, do so. He is demanding, but definitely worth it. Castle Gormenghast is still one of the most tangible places in literature I can remember, an experience both exhilarating and terrifying. For starters, imagine the biggest Gothic castle you can think of. City-sized, possibly even bigger. A labyrinth filled with other labyrinths. A whole dynasty of major and minor aristocracy including countless servants inhabit the castle, but large parts of it have been abandoned or simply forgotten or fallen into decay. For thousands of years, the Groan family has been ruler of the castle, but they effectively have become prisoners to an ancient and incomprehensible system of laws and sub-laws. But with the birth of Titus, the 77th Lord Groan, everything is about to change…

What I aim for in my paper is an analysis of the Titus books from a post-World-War-II perspective. The books were published roughly around the time of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and there is a strong sense of the fantastic or even fantasy in Peake’s magnum opus. Yet his characters and locations are far too British (Regency and Victorian) compared to classic fantasy, and castle Gormenghast is the ultimate Gothic space. Add all of this together, and you have an old and crumbling empire that sees the dictatorial threat of a usurper and the coming of age of a young and rebellious heir to the castle. I don’t want to read the books too allegorically and say that they represent the state of Britain after the Second World War (an idea as wrong as equalling Sauron/Saruman with Hitler), but Peake’s absurd and eerie situations are definitely reminiscent of the horrors of war and the stale continuity of post-War agendas.

In any case, Mervyn Peake is an author you shouldn’t miss. His books are quite easy to get and classics by now. Just make sure you don’t get lost in a derelict hallway of Gormenghast without provisions…

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To be published!

Well, those were short 4 to 6 months. I have received an e-mail from Mythlore yesterday stating that they are going to publish my essay on Pratchett and Tolkien! This trip to the US has just become even sweeter in retrospect…

I will keep you updated about when exactly the essay is going to appear in Mythlore journal.

Oh, and the presentation yesterday also went well. It was rather weird talking in German about what I normally work on in English, but professors and students seemed to like it. Now to start with plans for my next essay on fantastic architecture (I hope my two semesters of art history will be sufficient to tackle the topic) and write, write, write…

Out of the box

I feel like I’m running in two directions. There was a mail in my inbox from Mythlore magazine, and they are considering publishing my article on Pratchett and Tolkien – in 4 to 6 months, I should know more.

And almost at the same time, I have sent off my thesis summary to my professors with the feeling that there is either a horrible typo somewhere or that I should have written even more (but 9 pages ought to be enough, right?).

Not-so-busy times, confusing times. But still good times.

Yes. Time for my midnight tweet, and then off to bed.

Under construction

Hello all. Back from the Bernese countryside. I’m feeling a bit knackered today – theatre camp was great but rather demanding.

Nevertheless, good news! I have managed to finish editing my essay on Pratchett and Tolkien and sent it off to the Mythopoetic Society. Gods of Quills and Ink willing, it is going to be published in the Mythlore journal!

Now onwards to preparing a presentation and tomorrow’s tutorial session… a more informative and possibly even academic post is coming soon…

On an adventure

I went on my first private study trip with my GA travel card today. This wonderful (and costly) card allows free travel across the whole of Switzerland by train, bus or nearly any other public transportation for a full year, and I’m going to use the heck out of it.

I went to Chur, one of the cities in the southeast of Switzerland, mainly because I love that part of the country and the train ride takes more than two hours there and back again. I took two books with me and managed to read about one-and-a-half during travel and waiting for trains.

But the break in between was what I truly cherished. It’s just refreshing to step out of the train after stuffing your mind with Tolkien and the umpteenth study destined to define fantasy once and for all (™) and smell fresh mountain air.

If you’d like to see some pictures of this trip (and more to come), you can now follow me on Instagram under the username mirolandis. There are also plenty of pictures from my visit to the States online.

This reminds me… I could follow the Tolkien hike from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen one day…

Two new highlights

Almost done with the reading list and the programme for my course. And I may have found one of the best articles in weeks. The title alone is worth quoting in full: Story Matters: Story and its Concept in Tolkien and Pratchett” by Margarida McMurry. (Source: “Collision of Realities: Establishing Research on the Fantastic in Europe”)

Yup, this might prove to be another key text for my thesis. Barely ten pages in length but filled with so much premise and promise that I’ll have to reread it and chase its sources down dark alleys until I have them all cornered.

This, and Kevin Paul Smith’s “Battling the Nightmare of Myth, Terry Pratchett’s Fairytale Inversions” (Source: “The Postmodern Fairytale: Folkloric Intertexts in Contemporary Fiction”) are the two new highlights in my recent research.

Onwards to new texts!

 

Don’t trust the labels

Warning: This has turned into a gentle semi-rant as I wrote it.

Ok, here goes. I have recently cross-read two articles claiming two very different positions on Tolkien’s place in the literary canon.

Article No. 1 says that Tolkien was a hidden modernist. While he wrote fantasy, he should be counted amongst modernist giants like T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce because he addressed similar topics: Finding new ways of expressing language, a quest for identity, a feeling of loss.

Article No. 2 says that Tolkien was a keen anti-modernist: He valued tradition, monarchy, and nowhere in his works any shattering of old orders to “make it new” is to be found.

And the same happens to Pratchett, except he is accused of Postmodernism. Some critics claim the Discworld picks all the best pieces of fantasy and pop culture, shuffles them and then rearranges them playfully into chaotic story lines with no clear ending or beginning. Others underline that the novels have beginnings and endings, and that for all his referencing and rearranging, Pratchett still uses classic plots and characters from myths and fairy tales to make fun of.

I think both Pratchett and Tolkien would shake their heads at these arguments and point out that they simply like writing stories. Certainly, they are products of their time – no story develops in a cultural vacuum – but waving just one flag and claiming that this is the ultimate truth (™) is like saying Pratchett is a “funny” author or Tolkien was a “creative linguist”. In the worst case, this means labelling one aspect of a person and thinking all the others will fit into the same category.

I know that I have my labels as well which I am attaching to Pratchett again and again like pinning a tail to a donkey, but I hope I will still be able to see the human underneath them at the end of the day. As a teacher of my girlfriend once wrote, literature is like telling a joke: If you have to explain it, it’s not fun anymore.