Tuesday, March 13, 2007


It's incredible how one image can shape a childhood. When I think back to my youth - 1982 in particular, when I was 7 - I think of Ian Miller's illustration of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast (above). Though I was oblivious to the story surrounding the image, I was dumbstruck by this castle perched so precariously. It fascinated me like no other. Maybe it was the color scheme, the browns and whites resembling the pale Colorado winters. Or maybe the crumbling facade of this city-like castle reminded me of houses I'd explored in my dreams. Scanning the illustration, I would creep over every nook and darkened cranny hoping to spot some semblance of life in this strange place. I think there were even times I held a magnifying glass to the image in an attempt to ferret out some hidden face or animal. Not knowing Peake's story, I made up my own. This was a post-apocalyptic city perched high on some remote mountaintop overlooking a desert valley of desolation. There were only three people who lived on here; a father and his two sons and they warred with mutants who would crawl out of the dusty landscape below. Or sometimes this was a bustling city, a place where people came for enlightenment and riches. Other times it was a city of newts. Ambulatory, intelligent newts. Okay, I was a weird kid.

Today, having read Peake's books, I understand the illustration. It fits perfectly with the tone of Peake's writing and it's now impossible to separate it out from it's intended purpose. I can still look at it with awe, more entranced today by Miller's skill, and every so often - when I stumble across it - I'll scan the page hoping to see something in there I didn't see before. Still, no luck.

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