Grotesque, Gargoyle, or Gorgeous Fictional Hero?
If we walk gritty metropolitan streets when the moon is shrouded with insidious clouds and penumbrae loom oppressive and foreboding and hiding untold dangers in their depths, we walk with one hand on our cell phones and the other on our pepper spray. We keep our heads down, our eyes averted, and pretend to ignore any dangers in the darkness.
Gone are the days where people led simple lives. Where tradition and superstition governed their beliefs and behaviors. Where the setting sun brought out more than shadows, and supernatural forces both threatened and protected.
Our ancestors didn’t hide their eyes or rely on their own wits and fortitude. When peril presented itself, they looked up—to the gargoyle.
The word “gargoyle” comes from the French word “gargouille” which means throat. Traditional gargoyles were decorative rainspouts that took water away from buildings, the runoff appearing to come from their throats and out their mouths.
There’s lore, though, that also lays claim to the derivation of the word. It holds that the term actually comes from the French legend, La Gargouille, who was a dragon that tormented the citizens of Rouen. He terrorized them for hundreds of years until Romanus, a Catholic priest, arrived and promised to vanquish the beast in exchange for the townspeople’s conversion to Christianity. He defeated the dragon through the power of his faith, and the villagers burned the creature at the stake. La Gargouille’s body was destroyed, but his head would not burn, so they cut it off and mounted it on their church as a warning to other monsters. (This is how gargoyles got the reputation of being protectors of the church and warriors against demons.)
Most gargoyles looked like hideous beasts. People came to think of them as the representation of evil outside of church, therefore inside the church, they would find salvation. An interesting twist to this concept is that the more fearsome a sculpture, the more pagans would relate to it. They found the images familiar and relatable, and therefore welcoming. Thus began their conversion to the church.
Today, “gargoyle” has come to mean any fearsome sculpture in the gothic tradition at the top of a building, including “grotesques” which are not functional, but are purely decorative. La Gargouille’s head was actually a grotesque, not a gargoyle, which shows that the term “gargoyle” became inclusive of all carvings fairly early. Furthermore, although the word is only a few centuries old, gargoyles actually date back several millennia. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all liked to adorn their monuments with fierce lion heads. The oldest known gargoyle is a 13,000-year-old crocodile head in Turkey.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was swept up in the Gothic revival of the 19th century. Dozens of churches, government buildings, and other Gothic-style structures were erected with gargoyles and grotesques on them, and the city still boasts more than twenty gargoyles and hundreds of grotesques, many of which can be seen in the city’s Downtown Dragons tour.
I hail from Western Pennsylvania. Maybe that’s why I have a fascination with Gothic architecture and the gargoyle/grotesque. It’s only natural this interest would eventually result in Love Set in Stone, a novel set in Pittsburgh featuring a gargoyle as a main character.
Description of Love Set in Stone:
A cold stone heart breaks more easily than it beats. Than it loves.
Damien was a loyal warrior, killed in battle in 1203. Because of his true heart, he was given the option to pass on to his eternal reward or exist in another state of being as a protector… until he could resume living the life he’d been cheated of. A soldier by nature, he chose the latter. And he waited centuries—as a gargoyle—growing increasingly bitter about his choice.
Then he sees her.
Rina is a hard worker and loyal friend. But she has the worst luck. One night, after saving her best friend from a violent assault, she finds herself at the attacker’s mercy. Then, out of nowhere, a savior comes and rescues her.
With only an angel to guide him, Damien must make the right choices to win Rina’s heart or be forever damned as a grotesque mockery of the guardian he once was.
Short Excerpt from Love Set in Stone:
He gasped but only succeeded in inhaling thick embers. “I hate it when you do that to me, Anael. What the hell?”
“Not what, Damien,” Anael said. “Where. It’s against the rules, but you needed to see.”
“The first level.”
Damien choked on clouds of brimstone and looked around. Bodies hung on racks, some scourged by demonic creatures wielding whips of fire, others stretched until their limbs tore off only to reassemble and stretch again. Some souls were skinned and devoured, the torment cyclical, never-ending. Giant beasts with nine-inch claws and twelve-inch teeth tore people into bloody shreds. They gnawed on the bones of writhing beings, snarling and snapping at anything near them.
There was no blessed retreat into unconsciousness or death. This was their other side, their ever-after, their eternity. The tormented endured each torture, alert and unprotected. Impossibly hot gusts of wind howled through the cavern, tossing the departed from one horror to the next. And the maniacal screeches of the tormentors were only overpowered by the anguished wails of the damned.
“I’ve seen enough.” Damien’s words were barely intelligible through his coughing and wheezing.
“Are you certain? This is only the first level. The second level hosts souls feeding on their own entrails, or having a myriad of sexual violations forced upon them. Rape. Sodomy. Bestiality. And then there’s—”
Damien clutched Anael’s arm. “Enough!”
“Do you understand now?”
Damien looked up and howled, his throat burning, his voice mingling into the sounds of all the other lost souls, an agonizing dirge melodic only to Satan himself.
When he thought the devil’s name, the most sinister laugh echoed through the cavern, a shadow given voice and power. It sent chills down his burning spine. The demons cheered, their victims cowered, and Damien cringed, seeking escape that would only be denied him.
I hope you enjoyed this brief history of gargoyles/grotesques, as well as the short snippet from my novel. I’d like to thank Melanie for opening her site to me today, and I’d like to thank all of you for taking the time to learn more about these misunderstood creatures and my take on them.