Grotesques vs Gargoyles
The theme of the grotesque is prominent in The Gargoyle. Marianne, a stone carver, educates the narrator on the difference between gargoyles and grotesques: A gargoyle is a decorated water spout, from the French word gargouille from which the verb gargle originates; whereas a grotesque can be decorative or weight supporting, but is never a water spout. The Cornell University Library provides a good summation on the topic and a gallery of gargoyles and grotesques, while this website provides a leisurely video tour around the grotesques of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
The grotesque in literature brings to mind Flannery O'Conner, Edgar Allen Poe and other diverse authors. Joyce Carol Oates discusses the grotesque's use in literature and art here. The grotesque in art is difficult to define, as shown by the University of Chicago's article on the topic, because its characteristics are based more on what it is not (e.g., not typical or not normal) than what it is.
Inferno, the first portion of the Divine Comedy, is another central theme in The Gargoyle. The protagonist's experiences as a burn victim as well as Marianne's tales of love and loss relate to the concepts of suffering, faith, sin and the afterlife found in Dante's writing. Dante Alighieri wrote the Divine Comedy in the 1300's; it remains one of the most studied works of medieval literature . A sub-site of the Eastern Kentucky University provides a visual tour through the circular stages of Dante's version of Hell found in the Inferno, as does this University of Texas at Austin website. The Divine Comedy can be read online here.
The Englethal Monastery
The monastery where Marianne is raised in the book was a real medieval monastery where nuns worked as scribes, as Davidson relates in his story. It was located near Nuremberg, Germany. For a history and description of the site, visit the University of Southern California website.
This article was originally published in August 2008, and has been updated for the
August 2009 paperback release.
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