Archives: Gormenghast

Castles: the Fantasy and the Reality.

The author at Castle Grimaud

The author at Castle Grimaud

Picture in your mind the fortresses of fantasy. Barad-dรปr. Gormenghast. Revelstone. Hell, Castle Greyhawk. Impressive structures, right? Massive, lofty. Roomy. Well, it’s fantasy. The writers didn’t need to deal with the costs of materials, transportation, or labor. Or with architectural concerns: no worries about load bearing limits, stresses, and all those other engineering realities that I barely comprehend and that even now builders are only able to overcome by employing newly developed materials and novel construction techniques. Real castles tended toward what most of us not living in shoe-box sized apartments in Hong Kong would consider cramped.

For instance, Blarney Castle, just north of Cork, Ireland. Approaching it on foot it looms. You marvel at how formidable it appears, wondering how an attacker could assault those walls. But inside it is a doll house. Sure, the narrow halls and stairways are an obvious defensive advantage, but imagine actually living in those minuscule chambers day after day. Of course what you’re used to seems normal. And it beat the contemporary alternatives. It must have seemed homey with plastered walls, tapestries, furniture, and blazing fires. As a gutted shell it doesn’t scream four-star accommodation.

Neuschwanstein is a comfy place, but Sleeping Beauty’s castle isn’t exactly the paragon of medieval upscale living, not being built until the later half of the 19th century. Now some fortifications, basically walled cities, like Mont Saint-Michel (which I hope to visit some day) and Monte Carlo are quite spectacular, but the living space is spread over many structures. (Other fortified hilltop villages are remarkably cramped, like the picturesque Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.)

I suppose the smaller keeps make the more ambitious, palatial real-world castles that much more impressive. What is the most awe-inspiring castle you have visited? Which would you hold up in comparison to great fortresses of fantasy? Which secondary-world castle would you most like to see?