Recently, while establishing a Pinterest account for A Scholarly Skater, I did a search for the keyword “gargoyle” and came across some pretty unusual stuff. I’ve searched for that term often enough times to know that there are plenty of twentieth and twenty-first century gargoyles out there. They occasionally appear on buildings, which I’ve talked about before, but they more often serve a variety of other functions both straightforward and obscure. I typically separate contemporary and non-architectural gargoyles and grotesques from the historical ones I conduct my research on, but I’ve suddenly found myself interested in the gargoyle-loving subculture that produces and spreads these images. I decided to pick a few of the most compelling (or just strangest) and look into them in a little more depth.
With their pseudo-medieval garb, hoods, and beaked faces, these three gargoyles remind me of something you would see in some kind of assassins video game. I first thought they might be statues adorning a waterfront building, but their caption on Pinterest clued me in on the possibility that they might be more than they seen. “Gargoyles, I think… they could be people dressed up as gargoyles, I can’t tell. Cool either way!”. The source link, to a page on waterfire.org, was broken, but I eventually traced the image back to TEN31 Productions. TEN31 is a Providence, Rhode Island-based group of performers specializing in “the highest quality Living Art performances”, according to their “About” page. They portray classical statues, historical and mythological figures, trees and topiaries, and a variety of other characters, complete with elaborate costumes and make-up that realistically simulates metal, wood, or marble. So much of the modern day fascination with gargoyles seems to center around the possibility of them coming to life, so I love the idea that these performances can enact exactly that. I wonder what it’s like to interact with a gargoyle!
This gargoyle’s name is Goliath, and he was a main character in the 1990s Disney television series Gargoyles, a show I’ve never actually seen but had some prior knowledge of its existance. Of course, Disney is no stranger to gargoyles, having produced the celebrated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I would be willing to bet is many children’s first introduction to gargoyles. From what I can gather, Goliath and his grotesque cohorts are involved in some sort of nocturnal vigilante ritual, spending their daylight hours as stone. This sounds like an extreme version of the usual superhero paradigm of being ordinary during the day and super at night; the gargoyles are so ordinary during the day that they’re not even animate. I also saw many images of Goliath with a human woman in his arms, making him a perfect example of the hunky-male-gargoyle-as-lover persona who seems to fuel so much of the gargoyle fascination. If you don’t believe me, try searching for “gargoyle” on DeviantArt of any other site like that.
This image appears on several websites, but there’s no indication of where it originated from. This really frustrates me because I think it’s so clever, and I really want to know which genius is responsible. This little guy is performing exactly the same function he would have in the Middle Ages, only he is on the ground attached to the end of a modern metal gutter instead of sitting high up on top of a building. I suspect that he one of the many gargoyles and grotesques sold on eBay, etsy, and similar online shops. I’ve seen a variety of gargoyle figurines, dolls, artwork, architectural ornaments, garden decorations, home décor, tableware, jewelry, and so forth, all produced and sold by highly creative individual artists or boutiques.
I wasn’t as intrigued by the illustration here as I was the text that accompanies it. “Gargoyles. A race of creatures that endure life as statues, but come alive to ward off Evil beings. Their statues are usually placed atop places of worship such as churches to deter Evil from entering. If need be, they can leave their resting place to fend off the persistent Evil.” The blog listed as the source of this image, mycharmedbook.blogspot.com, posts reproductions of the Book of Shadows, a witchcraft-related book from the television show Charmed. It’s unclear whether this page actually made an appearance in Charmed or it was created by a fan, but it seems that gargoyles were in at least a few episodes of the show. In general, Books of Shadows are encyclopedias or spell books created and used by Wiccan and Pagan groups. My research led me to Wiccan and neo-Pagan websites on several occasions, so I think it’s a pretty safe bet that gargoyles are frequently included in such books.
According to the caption and the site it links back to, this gargoyle can be found at the entrance to the Fright Walk on the Santa Cruz, California Boardwalk. He really is pretty terrifying looking, particularly with those brown stains that make it look like he’s decaying. I find it so interesting how many gargoyles in popular culture have been made to look so much more frightening than their medieval counterparts. This one is also quite humanoid in appearance – and ripped! I’ve noticed that many of the mega-scary gargoyles are more human-like in appearance that those of the Middle Ages, and I wonder if this half man-half beast hybridity is part of what makes them so scary – like they are corrupted souls or deformed humans.
From characters in television shows and movies to references in subcultures’ manifestos, there are so many fascinating avenues to explore in the realm of gargoyles in popular culture.