I first read this when I was eight or nine, and don't remember reading it since. In particular, I remember reading it and getting very confused as to what was going on. The words were fine, but comprehension was something of a difficulty, and I didn't want to give up.
It is incredibly strange coming back to it twenty-five years later and going "Ah, yes, I couldn't work out what was going on with the barrels with the elves in the forest." Anyway...
I think the story is a bit mediocre. The narrator is a bit too wry, all the escapes a bit too lucky to suspend disbelief, the characters act according to their race, but the tedious songs are mercifully rare. I still don't care for the illustrations. Overall, it feels rather comic-booky.
The book's popularity is a bit of a mystery to me, but I guess it works as a prequel to The Lord of The Rings, which at least has an appropriately epic scale to it.
I only made it through the first of the Gormenghast books (perhaps that's the point?), but that felt well-written, a world that in some way felt plausible, and actually laden with atmosphere. This book? Mostly just suitable for someone a little older than eight or nine.