Why gargoyles? It so happens that every book here has a line about a gargoyle in the text. What started as a whim gained momentum, and now my many casual readers watch out for the reference, often being surprised when a second or third one pops in to the tale.
I have always been fascinated with gargoyles and found myself snapping voraciously at the creatures that adorned the ancient cathedrals in Paris and Canterbury, Winchester and Cologne, amongst many. Eventually I began collecting them and now gargoyles adorn the walls of my house, happy to gather dust knowing they are much loved.
The interesting thing was, after dubbing my novel ‘collection’ The Gargoyle Chronicles, a fellow writer, from the US (Jessica), suggested it would be a good name for a book. All one needs is an idea and thus The Gargoyles Chronicles, Volume XXV of my collection, was born. It features a gargoyle who is carved and hung on the bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The tale follows him through a vigil of 800 years. The character, Félix, was named by another fellow writer, J J Kendrick (check out my ‘Author Friends’ page from the menu.) This was a fortuitous event as I had just been to Suffolk and a town called Felixstowe, where the final chapters of the story are set. Have a look below at the Roof Boss section to see how he looks at the end of the book, and as he hangs on my wall...
So, you've got something moth-eaten and mossy hanging off your house. What is it; a gargoyle, a chimera or a roof boss? There is an important distinction here, you might hurt its feelings, it may wish to converse with you, perhaps proffer a joke.
A gargoyle: a garish creature, often resembling a dragon, sometimes with wings, and most likely to be elongated, hanging off the edge of a building. The purpose of these creatures was to scare away evil, hence the appearance on many cathedrals, but its actual function was to drain water off the roof and away from the stone-work, preserving the structure below. I was lucky enough to find myself in the shadow of Notre Dame in Paris one rainy morning, and the structure was dripping with gargoyle drool, yet not a drop fell on the walls.
I love this picture of a traditional gargoyle, but mainly because it is a fake. It is a composite of a gargoyle from Cologne Cathedral in Germany and one of my boy's Meccano sets designs...
A Chimera: often mistaken for gargoyles, these creatures come in many forms, from men to faces, elephants and demons. The difference is they are purely decorative. They do not port water away from the structures they adorn. Apparently in the UK there is one who bares his bum! Here is an example from my visit to Lincoln...
A Roof Boss: these are often found high up in the arches of churches, where the ribbing meets. They are decorative, but they also provide the strength as the keystone. The one below is on one of my walls, a recasting in stone (reclaimed from its originating cathedral), and a fine fellow he is. The Roof Bosses in Winchester Cathedral are quite fascinating for their colour; sometimes it is wise to look to the Heavens, and not just for spiritual guidance. The one to the left is a wyvern.
Misercord: And then there is the oft forgotten misercord. Usually carved in wood and found amongst the choir stalls of cathedrals, these intricate creations are quite similar to chimeras i their beauty and their grotesqueness. I have a number of these around my house as well, the one below is my favourite, and he has a knight as a mate.
The legend of the gargoyle is not specific, but I do like the French provincial version, which I adapted for the novel The Gargoyle Chronicles: here is a sample...
He is a Gargoyle. Have you not heard of La Gargouille, the monster from Rouen?”
“Marguerite, what are you teaching this girl? Sacrebleu… sit, daughter and I will tell you. La Gargouille was a monster who lived near Rouen, many years ago. It was a dragon of a creature with bat-like wings, and a long neck; a hideous monster which breathed fire from its mouth. It terrorized the countryside, burning crops and clawing the children of the men who fought it most bravely.”
Arianne’s eyes were pools of wonder and fear now; wide and attentive, her mouth a mirrored pool of fascination.
“Go on, Papa.”
“The monster’s terror, the reign of La Gargouille, lasted for many years, season after season. Then one year a very great man, a priest later called St Romanus, subdued the beast. He shielded himself with his own crucifix, stretched out before him. It repelled the flames, setting La Gargouille alight. St Romanus threw his blackened crucifix at the beast. End over end it tumbled, striking the beast in the chest. Hardened by the gargoyle’s own flames, it pierced his heart and brought the beast down. St Romanus, bless him, hail Mary, Jesus and the Holy Father, let the beast burn, but its head and neck, tempered by its own fire, remained. That victory is why all priests no longer take a wife, so there is always a pure soul in each village to slay the monsters of the swamps and forests. And you know, La Gargouille’s head can still be seen, mounted on the walls of the cathedral at Rouen.”
Nicknames given to my various books by various readers:
The Gargoyle Chronicles - Felix
The Cadaver and the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - Morty
Tales of Yorr - Yorkie
To See the Sun - Batty
The Virgin Ghost - Virgin
The Whispering Mine - William
Birth of Venus - BOV
Gurgles from beyond...
Now I have finally become active, the first blog is a blog within a blog… as not everything is always what it seems here in The Gargoyle Chronicles. Kudos here to author Claire C Riley for putting up wit my mad musings and adding this blog to her blog… see the following page:
Inspiration versus Perspiration?
The gargoyle's jaws lather salaciously as he ogles the world about him, drifting off to the north of England...
“There was a time I can still remember on a windswept moor. I don’t remember exactly where that was or quite when, but I remember the bite of the wind as it cut through the thin cotton shirt that I wore. I remember how the sun held its poise on horizon’s edge, with the promise of a sailor’s delight on the morrow behind a fearsome looking bank of clouds.”
Whitby, in the north of England, April 2008. Doctor Who was battling a giant wasp-man, David Tennant style, and the concrete floor of the dining room, in the basement of the B&B, was deserting those who had not worn shoes. I came here because of Frank Sutcliffe. I had a number of his photos hanging on my hall wall, but as Edison said… genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. I was about to find out why.
The streets of Whitby are nothing if not steep and cobbled; just as difficult to stumble down as to scale. Sutcliffe’s Gallery beckoned, another picture for the hall wall, but it was closed for the weekend, and that was all I had. Inspiration had to be discovered elsewhere in this quaint seaside village, so I delved into the nuances of time, imagining sepia landscapes, and soon found myself by the River Esk.
The wharf area was always peaceful at this time of night and it was especially luminous tonight due to a favourable full moon and the absence of the clouds that had dogged the sun earlier in the day. Only a solitary cloud, narrow and long with the wind, faded across the moon now, its edges illuminated fancifully as if it was lit from within.
I wandered along the banks of the Esk between the wicker crayfish baskets and the ancient bollards. The archaic setting put a smile on my face. The Esk was as calm and misty as a mirror after a morning shower while I made my way slowly across the swing bridge to the opposite shore. The narrow alleys, that wound their cobbled way down the cliffs rising up above the town on this side of the Esk, now greeted me from the shadows.
I poked my head into the shop windows and marvelled at their clutter of kitsch tourist goods and variety of sweets. A drool formed unwittingly as I ogled the Whitby Rock and its many varieties, but the other stone more prevalent here, the renowned Whitby Jet, was like black pools of mystery drawing me ever closer without falling in.
Beyond the jet, the road here swung up sharply to the right and onto the 199 stairs that led up to the parish church and the ruined abbey. To my left was one of Whitby’s narrow sandy beaches, but I knew my destination… the ruins of Whitby Abbey. The climb up the stairs here was steep and exhausting… Edison was right; plenty of perspiration, yet inspiration eluded me. The Abbey was closed for the night, but on returning in the morning, I discovered my fabled Sutcliffe and captured the Abbey in all its eeriness… that was 597 steps, only 99 more to get back down!
The wharves across the Esk were a pathetic excuse for a fun pier Brighton-style. I imagined peeking through the strands of my windswept hair to find that the bollard below the lighthouse, near the end of the old seawall, was draped with a mermaid; one whose tail formed a perfect aerial en pointe in fishnets. However, it was night in my imagination and the full moon shone quite brilliantly on her pale shoulders and arms, features of flesh that were quite distinct from her black dress and her long black hair. Her eyes reflected the dark depths of a midnight sea, the glint of the full moon like the splash of a cresting wave ebbing as she tossed her hair in the sea breeze. If only it was night… perhaps I could create that mood; embellish the whiff of fairy floss and the turn of the clown’s faces as they sucked the pennies from unsuspecting passers-by. I allowed myself the indulgence and emptied my pockets at the top of the queue… bound for the inner labyrinth of the Dracula Experience! Shouldering arms, there were six of us, darkness ahead…
There was a scream in the distance, from somewhere we had yet to experience. I yearned to be there, because it was probably there... inspiration! I kept up with the others as they began to run. We bolted through webs we could not recall later, past scenes Winona would have been proud of, through doors and along a revolving tunnel that would have stirred our stomachs had we walked through it more warily. Finally, we burst through another door all slimy as if covered in blood reaching for a scream beyond it and bounded out into a narrow passageway to join the screams of hilarity and recognition of my five companions.
Then we all heard it… him… that low terrifying rumble of a laugh… one of the girls screamed (as they do in these places) as a monstrous bat came swooping in from our right flank, but this bat had eyes that were all black with an intensity that drew the blood from our faces, and fangs that glowed white in the darkness. It swooped down and picked off the girl in front. The girl screamed and passed out as it sank its teeth into her neck. The rest of us ran across the bridge which almost threw us off sideways as it swayed (I contributed gladly to this, jumping maniacally for greater effect!) The apparition disappeared and Madame Guillotine appeared to our left, holding up the severed head of that beautiful redheaded girl… the girl we had just forsaken! We screamed again and ran on (waving our hands in the air somewhat limply), but we were now three… what happened to… more screams… and I found myself running with only one other. She held onto my hand gratefully, but she was cold – fear racked my body and sucked the life out of it as it had hers…
“Quickly, in here…”
She opened a door which seemed to be slimy, was that blood? Oh God, then I turned; her eyes were all black and her white teeth, glowing in the dark, dripped with blood…
“Well now, Gargoyle… were you not warned about this place and those who did not return if they ventured out on their own?”
WTF… I was out of there, screaming like a girl at a Bieber concert, running up the hill, beyond the Captain Cook monument, to the great circuit of Victorian buildings that over looked the North Sea.
That’s where I saw it, the gold-rimmed plaque all royal blue, which read…
Bram Stoker (1847-1912) Author of Dracula stayed here 1890-1896
On the flight home to Australia I sketched out my newest novel, born of one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration… To See the Sun became my first foray into the literary world of Gothic horror… having tasted just a little of my own by the Whitby wharf.
D J Meyers
PS dearest Claire asked for something bloggish and short, but she should know better. When it comes to me, words are always gushing out like water through a gargoyles mouth in a thunderstorm!
PPS all sections in italic are direct quotes from the novel To See the Sun (a tale of an Amnesiac Vampire)