Thursday, 18 November 2010

Character Connection: Steerpike

This is a wonderful meme hosted by Jen at The Introverted Reader. Every week, you share one literary character that you love with your fellow bloggers. You talk about the character, say why you love them and hope that everyone else will love them too.;) Be sure to post the book’s title and author, and be very careful not to give away spoilers while talking about how much you love your characters.


Steerpike is the antagonist of the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake.

To start with a quote, this is how Peake describes Steerpike: “If ever he had harboured a conscience in his tough narrow breast he had by now dug out and flung away the awkward thing - flung it so far away that were he ever to need it again he could never find it. High-shouldered to a degree little short of malformation, slender and adroit of limb and frame, his eyes close-set and the colour of dried blood, he is climbing the spiral staircase of the soul of Gormenghast, bound for some pinnacle of the itching fancy - some wild, invulnerable eyrie best known to himself; where he can watch the world spread out below him, and shake exultantly his clotted wings.”

In terms of physical appearance, Steerpike is described like this, “Limb by limb, it appeared that he was sound enough, but the sum of these several members accrued to an unexpectedly twisted total. His face was pale like clay and save for his eyes, mask-like. These eyes were set very close together, and were small, dark red, and of startling concentration.”

Steerpike begins his literary journey as a youngster of seventeen, working in the kitchens of Gormenghast, doing a job he hates, under a chef he hates as well. On the day the new earl is born, Steerpike escapes the kitchens and forms a plan to make Gormenghast his. He enters important individual’s lives with charm and his quick wit and thus begins his climb up the hierarchical ladder of Gormenghast. Every time he achieves something, he wants more and manipulates people with more vigour and greater cruelty.

He does not remove people in his way directly. He does so with indirect means: poison, making the commit suicide and so on. He is cold and ruthless, and his calculating nature ensures him a place in the upper hierarchy of Gormenghast. Then, an accident happens, scarring his face permanently and this changes him. This ruthless man become afraid of fire and begins to lose his grip on rationality.

It can be even argued that Steerpike has feelings for the Lady Fuchsia, the new earl’s sister, and he does woo her, but whatever he feels for her, if anything, is far less important than him becoming the leader of Gormenghast through her. To him, even she is expendable.

All in all, this is a cold, ruthless individual who both hates Gormenghast for the things he had to suffer in the kitchens and is also obsessed with it, trying to conquer this earldom. He is a quite complex and fascinating character.

In BBC’s adaptation from 2000, Steerpike was played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers.


The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I'm so glad you're sharing more about this villain as I've never read the Gormenghast series. Based on your description, I bet Jonathan Rhys Meyers did a good job as this character.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

@Bookworm: He was great as Steerpike, he totally captured the character.

Blodeuedd said...

Hm perhaps I should watched that series. I do have the books but dunno, they seem so weird

Introverted Jen said...

I am so sorry it's taken me so long to comment on this!

I hate to admit it, but I don't think I've even heard of this book before. It sounds great though!

I am so glad you put Jonathan Rhys Meyers' name in here. I knew I recognized him, but I could not remember his name! That would have driven me crazy all night!