Titus Groan

By: Mervyn Peake


1



THE HALL OF THE BRIGHT CARVINGS





Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by

itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it

possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed

like an epidemic around its outer walls. They sprawled over the sloping earth,

each one half way over its neighbour until, held back by the castle ramparts,

the innermost of these hovels laid hold on the great walls, clamping themselves

thereto like limpets to a rock. These dwellings, by ancient law, were granted

this chill intimacy with the stronghold that loomed above them. Over their

irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten

buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow

of the Tower of Flints . This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like

a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed

blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day

it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.

Very little communication passed between the denizens of these outer

quarters and those who lived _within_ the walls, save when, on the first June

morning of each year, the entire population of the clay dwellings had sanction

to enter the Grounds in order to display the wooden carvings on which they had

been working during the year. These carvings, blazoned in strange colour, were

generally of animals or figures and were treated in a highly stylized manner

peculiar to themselves. The competition among them to display the finest object

of the year was bitter and rabid. Their sole passion was directed, once their

days of love had guttered, on the production of this wooden sculpture, and among

the muddle of huts at the foot of the outer wall, existed a score of creative

craftsmen whose position as leading carvers gave them pride of place among the

shadows.

At one point _within_ the Outer Wall, a few feet from the earth, the great

stones of which the wall itself was constructed, jutted forward in the form of a

massive shelf stretching from east to west for about two hundred to three

hundred feet. These protruding stones were painted white, and it was upon this

shelf that on the first morning of June the carvings were ranged every year for

judgement by the Earl of Groan. Those works judged to be the most consummate,

and there were never more than three chosen, were subsequently relegated to the

Hall of the Bright Carvings.

Standing immobile throughout the day, these vivid objects, with their

fantastic shadows on the wall behind them shifting and elongating hour by hour

with the sun's rotation, exuded a kind of darkness for all their colour. The air

between them was turgid with contempt and jealousy. The craftsmen stood about

like beggars, their families clustered in silent groups. They were uncouth and

prematurely aged. All radiance gone.

The carvings that were left unselected were burned the same evening in the

courtyard below Lord Groan's western balcony, and it was customary for him to

stand there at the time of the burning and to bow his head silently as if in

pain, and then as a gong beat thrice from within, the three carvings to escape

the flames would be brought forth in the moonlight. They were stood upon the

balustrade of the balcony in full view of the crowd below, and the Earl of Groan

would call for their authors to come forward. When they had stationed themselves

immediately beneath where he was standing, the Earl would throw down to them the

traditional scrolls of vellum, which, as the writings upon them verified,

permitted these men to walk the battlements above their cantonment at the full

moon of each alternate month. On these particular nights, from a window in the

southern wall of Gormenghast, an observer might watch the minute moonlit figures

whose skill had won for them this honour which they so coveted, moving to and

fro along the battlements.

Saving this exception of the day of carvings, and the latitude permitted

to the most peerless, there was no other opportunity for those who lived within

the walls to know of these "outer" folk, nor in fact were they of interest to

the "inner" world, being submerged within the shadows of the great walls.

They were all-but forgotten people: the breed that was remembered with a

start, or with the unreality of a recrudescent dream. The day of carvings alone

brought them into the sunlight and reawakened the memory of former times. For as

far back as even Nettel, the octogenarian who lived in the tower above the

rusting armoury, could remember, the ceremony had been held. Innumerable

carvings had smouldered to ashes in obedience to the law, but the choicest were

still housed in the Hall of the Bright Carvings.