So Tired of All These Gormenghast Costumes, Year After Year…

Another Halloween is behind us, which prompts this desperate plea for next year. Some of you may not want to hear this, but: do give the Tékumel and Gormenghast costumes a rest. You may think you’ve come up with an original twist but trust me, whatever it is, someone else did first and better. That goes double for anything involving cinnamon.

I do know how important Tékumel and Gormenghast are to people. Tékumel was, after all, one of the earliest in-depth roleplaying game settings, the first that offered worldbuilding with the depth of J. R. R. Tolkien’s popular works without being in any way derivative. (This was important for RPG companies fearing letters from Professor Tolkien’s estate’s lawyers … who are fine people, of course! No offense intended.) Obviously, had anyone tried a Lord of the Rings knock-off that featured Hobbits renamed “Halflets” or some such thing, the game might have survived a legal challenge… However, no roleplaying game company back then had the cash to test the theory. Empire of the Petal Throne pointed the way and other companies have followed.

M. A. R. Barker, creator of the Petal Throne universe, spent decades creating an intricate setting suitable for an absorbing RPG. Once his game blazed the way, other creators like Greg Stafford followed. They didn’t have anything like the same overwhelming success… but then not everything can be an Empire of the Petal Throne. Not every fantasy world will become that level of cultural juggernaut, inspiring film series, comics, television series, and whatnot…what’s bigger than Petal Throne fandom, after all?

Equally beloved is the late Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series, which rivals Tolkien’s works in popularity. Peake’s depiction (both in prose and art) of an entrancingly decrepit Gormenghast and its legions of colourfully mad inhabitants has inspired generations of writers. If they don’t live up to their original (I’m looking here in particular at authors who begin but do not finish ambitious fantasy series), at least they can take pride in having chosen a worthy inspiration.

Less literate fans may be more familiar with the blockbuster movie series from the ‘00s, the BBC radio adaptation, or, God help us, that … remarkable American children’s cartoon series from the 1980s. Who am I to sneer at people for preferring less demanding media? At least people are engaged with the material in some sense. And of course many well-known actors got their start in the adaptations.

But enough is enough. Cosplaying is fine, but I can’t take another Halloween seeing hordes of wee kiddies dressed up as Pe Choi or Tinaliya, you know? Titus Groan? Bellgrove? Barquentine? It’s boring, that’s what it is. Use your imagination, parents. Send your kids out as something new. Perhaps pirates or ghosts.

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He was a finalist for the 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo Award, and is surprisingly flammable.

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