Tarlton Banks was born the heir to a wealthy family in Gormenghast. The Banks family, called such as the operators of a banking monopoly in Cinderwrought, were well known as stingy, miserly, and ostentatious, believing their wealth put them above the common rabble. For a time, it seemed like young Tarlton had it all.

One day when he was a teen, a woman appeared at the door of the Banks' home claiming to be a relative of Tarlton's mother. She pleaded with them to take her son, as she was sickly and did not want to leave the boy motherless and alone. When Tarlton's father had her thrown off the property, she placed a curse on their house that left Tarlton afflicted with with a disorder that caused him to wander to the ocean and swim in his sleep.

The curse rendered him unable to function in normal society, and his parents could not bear the shame of his affliction. He was cast out of his father's house and became a wanderer and a beggar, never knowing when he might awaken in the ocean's salty grasp, preserved only by the barrel vest he'd fashioned to keep him afloat. He took the name Tarl, as ashamed of his family as they were of him.

When Murf found Tarl bobbing in the sea, the barrel vest was the only thing keeping him afloat. Starved and hopeless, he was resigned to die there in the briny vastness. The cheese that Murf offered him was the truest kindness he'd ever been shown, and in that moment his overwhelming thankfulness and humility broke the curse that had ruined his life. From that day onward, he traveled with Murf as his faithful companion and partner.

After ousting the scroll lords from Dankhouse, recognizing the need for order in the town, Tarl agreed to stay behind as the new sheriff, where he currently remains.