EXCLUSIVE: FremantleMedia North America is doubling down on the fantastical after securing the rights to sprawling novel series Gormenghast with Neil Gaiman and Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) lined up to adapt for television.

I understand the company won a hotly contested battle to option the five books in the series, written by British author Mervyn Peake from literary agent Jonathan Sissons at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop.

It marks the first television adaptation of the books since the BBC adapted the first two books – Titus Groan and Gormenghast – as a four-part series in 2000 with Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Christopher Lee starring.

The books follow the inhabitants of Castle Gormenghast, a sprawling, decaying, gothic-like structure with a raft of characters including Titus, the heir to the throne of the House of Groan, scheming kitchen boy Steerpike and twin sisters Cora and Clarice.

It is the latest FremantleMedia project for Gaiman, who already exec produces Starz fantasy drama American Gods and signed an exclusive multi-year deal with the producer last year. He will be a non-writing exec producer on the project alongside Oscar-winning writer Goldsman. It is the latter’s latest high-profile major television series, having worked on Fox’s mystery drama Fringe, Star Trek: Discovery and Titans.

Academy Award-winning Barry Spikings (The Deer Hunter) will also serve as an executive producer, along with David Stern (Howards End), who was instrumental in bringing the deal together. FremantleMedia North America is understood to meeting with potential showrunners for the project.

“There is nothing in literature like Mervyn Peake’s remarkable Gormenghast novels,” said Gaiman.  “They were crafted by a master, who was also an artist, and they take us to an ancient castle as big as a city, with heroes and villains and people larger than life that are impossible to forget. There is a reason why there were two trilogies that lovers of the fantasy genre embraced in the Sixties: Lord of the Rings, and the Gormenghast books. It’s an honor to have been given the opportunity to help shepherd Peake’s brilliant and singular vision to the screen.”

“Nothing combines a dark atmosphere with humor and intrigue the way that Gormenghast does.  It’s one of the most eccentric and vividly imagined universes ever created,” said Dante Di Loreto, President of Scripted Entertainment, FremantleMedia North America.  “We’re excited to continue our relationship with Neil and the producing team assembled for this project is ideal to explore the series’ perfect mix of humor, pathos and tragedy.”

“We are tremendously excited by the prospect of seeing the Gormenghast books realized for television,” added Fabian Peake, son of Mervyn and executor of the Peake estate.  “This venture presents a unique opportunity to explore the imagination of a multi-faceted artist.”