Gargoyles: Mischievous Monsters for over a Millennia

I’m pleased to welcome fellow Sister in Crime Gigi Pandian as today’s guest on the blog. Gigi and I share a fascination with gargoyles, the subject of her post, and Gigi’s latest mystery, The Accidental Alchemist, features a centuries-old female alchemist and her impish gargoyle sidekick who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician. Take it away, Gigi!


I’ve always been fascinated by gargoyles, so when I began writing a paranormal mystery about an alchemist, the gargoyle character ended up taking over the story!

I’m not alone. Gargoyles have fascinated people for millennia. Though they were most popular during the medieval era in Europe, the first known use of gargoyles was in ancient Egypt.

Nobody has the definitive answer as to why drainage pipes were anthropomorphized as gargoyles, but many different forces contributed to their rise in popularity. Gargoyles reached the height of popularity in 13th century Europe. Since they look like tormented souls, and were often used on cathedrals in medieval Europe, one common theory is that gargoyles symbolize trapped souls, showing people they would be safe once they entered the interior sanctuary of the church.

Within this theory, it’s up for debate whether or not those tormented gargoyles were trapped human souls, fierce guardians warding off the devil, or creatures ready to harm people who didn’t attend church. As with much religious interpretation in the Middle Ages, it’s likely that all of these interpretations were used. After all, most people were illiterate, so different ideas spread in different areas.

But what was the intent of the stone carvers themselves? Gargoyles provided an outlet where they could let loose with their creativity.

Historian Janetta Rebold Benton speculates that gargoyles have always fascinated people because we’re naturally drawn to the mysterious and the macabre. “The modern horror movie,” she says, “like the medieval gargoyle, pretends to threaten us but does no harm.” And yes, I do read books about gargoyles by historians!


Technically, a gargoyle is a water spout used for draining rainwater away from a building. But over time, the term has come to be used more broadly, applying to ornamental grotesques perched on buildings. And today, many of these modern “gargoyles” are have a much more benevolent appearance. The gargoyles of Notre Dame in Paris are even said to keep watch for anyone drowning in the Seine.


Architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc was the man who created the gallery of gargoyles at Notre Dame, during the cathedral’s restoration in the 1800s. Those famous gargoyles are a “new” addition to the old cathedral.

I love to use real history in my novels, so in The Accidental Alchemist, I created Dorian the gargoyle using the real history of Notre Dame. Both Viollet-le-Duc and famous stage magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin are important figures in the Accidental Alchemist series.


The Accidental Alchemist is the first in a series, so there’s plenty more fun with gargoyles to come.

In The Accidental Alchemist: Unpacking her belongings in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon, herbalist and reformed alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle—not to mention a master of French cuisine—and he needs Zoe’s expertise to decipher a centuries-old text.

“Pandian launches a supernatural cozy series that hits high marks for a modern twist on an ancient practice.”Library Journal

Gigi Pandian is the USA Today bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and the forthcoming Quicksand) and the new Accidental Alchemist mysteries. Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards. Gigi spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Find Gigi online at, connect with her on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GigiPandian), and check out her gargoyle photography on the Gargoyle Girl Blog at


My Novel-in-Progress

A few weeks ago, fellow Sister in Crime Alyx Morgan invited me to participate in an ongoing blog chain called “The Next Big Thing” where writers talk about their current works-in-progress. Alyx writes young adult mysteries featuring teenage Holmes-wannabe Tabitha Patterson. If that sounds like your cup of tea, check out her short stories on and Tabitha is an appealing character and the stories are loads of fun. (Note: Sisters in Crime is a group of mystery writers, not criminals!)

“The Next Big Thing” was started by blogger She Writes to help female authors promote their current work by answering a set of ten questions and then “tagging” other writers, inviting them to do the same. So, without further ado, here is my contribution:

photo by Laertes courtesy of Creative Commons

What is your working title of your book?

CHIMERA. The title is a double-edged reference, first to the French word for decorative gargoyles (chimeres: gargoyles which don’t function as downspouts). The most famous of these are the group that sits atop the gallery connecting the two towers of Notre Dame in Paris. Secondly, it refers to the notion of “chimera” as “an impossible or foolish fantasy” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1964).
Where did the idea come from for the book?
CHIMERA started as a short story for an anthology titled FISH NETS, where the story had to incorporate the idea of “fish nets” in some fashion. I wanted to set the story in Paris and started by having two fishermen discover a young woman’s body near the Seine. My main character is a priest, a “fisher of men.”
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a mixture of urban fantasy and suspense.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I don’t always think in those terms, but one of the secondary characters is partly based on an old French film star from the black-and-white era, Jean Gabin.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A Jesuit professor’s sabbatical in Paris is disrupted when a gargoyle accosts him on the tower of Notre Dame, demanding that he investigate a young woman’s suspicious death.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
That remains to be seen. I hope to start querying agents sometime after the new year.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote it in fits and starts. The first chapter, which started out as a story for the anthology, went very quickly, in only a week or two, and then I sat on the thing for a matter of months. I realized that I really loved this universe and wanted it to become a full-length book, but wasn’t sure how to continue. The initial chapter was written in February of 2011, and bits and pieces of the story came to me over the following months, but I didn’t really sit down and start to work on it in earnest until Thanksgiving break. I finished the first draft the following May, and have since been revising it with the help of beta readers and critique partners.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
That’s a tough one. It isn’t really quite like anything I’ve read, but I can tell you about some of the authors who have influenced this particular book. One of them is Robertson Davies. He didn’t write fantasy per se, but his books have these wonderful, almost fantastical, elements, and one of the characters in CHIMERA has a few details in his background that are a salute to one of the characters in Davies’ DEPTFORD TRILOGY.
Another element that inspired me comes from the Merrily Watkins novels of Phil Rickman: the idea of a place which focuses supernatural energies. Rickman’s novels also feature a self-doubtful member of the clergy as a main character, just as CHIMERA does.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My previous novels are all historical mysteries, and after working on them for several years, I wanted a change. I wanted something set in the present day, but something that also preserved that element of otherness which is one of the things I love about reading historical fiction. Paris is one of the most marvelous places on earth, plus it is a city that I know very well–at least parts of it. I also loved the idea of writing fantasy, but it wasn’t until I wrote the story for FISH NETS that all of these things came together.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
If you’re curious to know what the gargoyles on Notre Dame get up to when nobody’s looking and what happens when one of them recruits a doubting-Thomas priest to join their battle against an evil demon who has risen from the city’s ancient past, I think you’ll enjoy CHIMERA.
And here are the writers I tagged
Please tune into their blogs the week of November 5-9
Judith Starkson writes historical fiction.
Her “Next Best Thing” post will appear Thurs. Nov. 8
Stacy Juba writes adult murder mysteries and contemporary romance fiction as well as books for young adults and children.
Her “Next Best Thing” post will appear Wed. Nov. 7
Edith Maxwell writes mysteries. Her first novel, Speaking of Murder, is published by Barking Rain Press. A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die, the first in the cozy Local Foods Mystery series, will be published by Kensington in May, 2013.
Her “Next Best Thing” post will appear Mon. Nov. 5
Mary Sutton writes the middle-grade fantasy
series Hero’s Sword as M.E. Sutton. She also writes mystery, including the
Laurel Highlands Mysteries, and contemporary romance as Liz Milliron.
Her “Next Best Thing” post will appear Tues. Nov. 6 


Message for the tagged authors and interested others:

Rules of the Next Big Thing
***Use this format for your post
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Be sure to line up your five people in advance.

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