In a past article about Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series I talked about how a key part of the setting and overall mood is a result of the sense of inevitability and inescapability that is created. Routine becomes destructive and insular, and as a result any kind of change – even change from a traditionally “evil” source – is welcome to the reader. This ties in to what I see as an interesting possibility for historical or pseudohistorical fiction – an exploration of evil. The concept of the empirical novel, central to science-fiction in its consideration of the effects of a setting on its inhabitants, becomes interestingly mutated when the settings and attitudes being explored are real ones or close to real ones.
In the previous article in this series, I talked about how extreme violence and a pessimistic outlook often makes it hard to properly engage with a fantasy world, because it takes an overly negative view of humanity. However, a more muted and subtle kind of evil, manifested in the right way, can make even an amoral protagonist seem engaging. Mervyn Peake’s trilogy of novels Gormenghast, in its first two volumes, perfectly tracks the progress of a loathsome protagonist through a bizarre and grim world.