In France, the
novelist Victor Hugo saw the Middle Ages as an era of great faith. Hugos
Notre Dame de Paris, or The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831),
drew attention to Pariss crumbling cathedral. Hugo set the novel
in the Middle Ages, and gave it an elaborate plot centering on the massive
structure. In this story, the cathedral was every bit as alive as the
human characters. The gargoyles appear
throughout, at the climax watching as the novels villain dangles
from the tower aware of his certain fate: He looked at the impassive
sculptured figures round the tower, suspended, like himself, over the
abyss, but without terror for themselves or pity for him. All about
him was stonethe grinning monsters before his eyes.
One reader particularly
influenced by the novel was Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, the
powerful lead architect of the French national preservation initiative,
the Commission des monuments historiques.
In 1843, he began an elaborate restoration of the endangered cathedral
that included a new series of grotesque
statues for the galleries surrounding both towers. Those chimères,
as he called them, quickly became not only icons of Gothic
fantasy, but archetypal gargoyles.
In fact, however, they are neither Gothic
nor gargoyles, but products of the
nineteenth-century imagination. In Greek mythology, the chimera
is a creature with a lions head, a goats body and a dragons
tail. In Viollet-le-Ducs scheme, however, a chimera
was any imaginary beast that exhibited features drawn from several different
animals. The original medieval gargoyles had long since begun to disintegrate
and fall to the ground, prompting officials to remove those that remained
for safety. Viollet-le-Ducs new creatures were demons watching
over the city of Paris.