Content Warning: The 2008 novel “The Gargoyle” by Andrew Davidson touches on many complex issues, most notably suicide, death, burn injuries, torture, the porn industry, and mental illness. The book can get pretty heavy. Also, massive spoilers will follow for the book “The Gargoyle.”
I love you. Aishiteru. Ego amo te. Ti amo. Ég elska pig. Ich liebe dich.
There are so many ways to say that simple phrase.
I’d heard of “The Gargoyle” but was hesitant to read it. I like books with a happily ever after. I especially like those books if they feature a protagonist who is not “heart-breakingly beautiful.” If you truly love someone, it should not be for their appearance. Not everyone agrees with me on this last point, but it’s something that I care about. “The Gargoyle” seemed like it could have been one of these stories, but I was afraid to read it. I feared I would become too emotionally connected to the main characters. I would be devastated if the book didn’t end exactly the way I wanted, like so many other romance novels with marriage (and probably an unplanned pregnancy).
Then real life struck, and I remembered there were worst things than a book not ending exactly the way I wanted. So I finally read this book back in 2014, during the worst time of my life. My mom’s recent cancer diagnosis had completely ruined whatever trajectory my family had been following. One of my best friends sent me a care package containing this book, and to this day it is one of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received. I’m not sure how she knew it was what I needed, but she did because some people have a gift for gift-giving.
The book was better than I could have imagined. I opened myself up to the possibility of a tragic ending, and the experience rewarded my trust. No, the book did not end with the marriage and unplanned pregnancy I had come to expect from romance novels, but it did have something much deeper. “The Gargoyle” is the story of someone who lived a wasted life learning to become a better person through his love for someone. The other stories are reminders that love can be a stronger force than we understand and that true love involves caring for someone even after that person is gone. The love stories in “The Gargoyle” are beautiful but complicated. If stories don’t end with the happily ever after, it is not because the characters did something to deserve it, but because life doesn’t always allow for the “happily ever after” part. But even when everything else is gone, the love still remains.
If most romance novels help you feel calm during a storm, then “The Gargoyle” is the book that shows you not to fear the storm.
The basic plot of “The Gargoyle” goes something like this: A drug-addicted porn star crashes his car and almost burns to death, but somehow is saved. He is horribly injured, and in between surgeries and treatments, he realizes he has nothing to live for, especially since he is now deformed and bankrupt. A local woman, Marianne Engel, visits him and tells him that they were lovers in Medieval Germany. As you do. He thinks she’s insane, but her continued visits – and the stories she tells him of their past life and other great loves – inspire hope and comfort within him. As the two become closer, it is unclear if Marianne is telling the truth about their lives or if she’s just an eccentric woman.
To this day it is the only novel written by Andrew Davidson, which annoys me to no end. The most recent news I could find of the guy was that he’d opened a theatre in Winnipeg, fittingly called “The Gargoyle Theatre.”
After reading the book and crying for a few hours, I realized how badly I wanted to see this story adapted. However, I also remember thinking, “a movie won’t do this book justice; it would have to be a miniseries.”
God, I am so happy that limited series are a thing again. It has been an absolute game-changer regarding the quality of a book adaptation. Some people may not remember this, but miniseries and limited series weren’t exactly a thing, at least not until Netflix made them slightly more popular. At the time, I despaired because most of the miniseries I knew were financial flops. However, with the advent of streaming services like Hulu and HBO Max, I trust that if a studio were to pick up the rights to “The Gargoyle,” it could receive the care and attention to detail it deserves.
The main character of “The Gargoyle” does not have a name, but from now on, I shall refer to him as the “Burned Man” because that’s how the Wikipedia entry does it, and I like how dramatic that sounds. His narration makes up the modern portions of the novel, but I don’t think his narration would serve well in a limited series. As TV is a visual medium, we would be able to follow his journey without needing him to say what he was doing. For example, we would watch him endure part of a debridement session rather than hear him describe the experience. Not that debridement sounds like fun, but as the main character is a burn victim, I think it is vital to show the reality and extent of his care.
I think each episode should contain three separate elements: the modern story of the Burned Man and Marianne, their love story in the 1300s, and the unrelated stories Marianne tells the Burned Man. While I imagine the modern-day and Medieval German stories would be presented in live-action, it may be interesting if Marianne’s other stories were told differently. Shadow puppetry is a beautiful form of storytelling, and I could see that technique being utilized for one of the tales (maybe for the story of La Gargouille). Likewise, Kamishibai could be the medium for the story of Sei, the Japanese Glassblower. I love how “The Secret of Kells” animated medieval Irish art, and I could very well one of the stories rendered in that style. We could even consider stop-motion for one segment. There are many possibilities beyond live-action for bringing these tales to life.
Those are the major adaptations I would suggest if this were to become a show. So with that in mind, I’ve created an episode breakdown to give you an idea of what each episode would contain.
The Gargoyle: Limited TV Series
|1||The unnamed narrator is driving under the influence when a volley of flaming arrows comes at him. He crashes, and his car catches on fire, trapping him inside. The man is horribly burned but barely survives when his car tips into a watery ravine.|
When the Burned Man wakes up in the hospital, he is alone, with only his elaborate plans for suicide, and his burgeoning morphine addiction, to keep him company. However, he meets a few medical staff, including Dr. Nan Edwards, his primary care physician, and Gregor, his psychiatrist, and Sayuri, his physical therapist.
The Burned Man meets Marianne, a fellow patient at the hospital, who tells him that this is the third time he has been burned. He has never met her before, but she continues to visit him, even after checking out of the hospital. Marianne insists that they knew each other once and that he has forgotten their shared past. The Burned Man thinks she may have schizophrenia. We learn that she is a sculptor by trade, an ability she claims to have learned from him.
The first story Marianne tells him is of the battle between Romanus and La Gargouille, and thus the creation of gargoyles. After her story, the Burned Man decides against ending his life.
|2||Marianne tells the story of her childhood. She was born in the year 1300 and grew up in the monastery of Engelthal in Germany. Surrounded by nuns and monks, she had an unconventional but otherwise happy childhood and trained as a scribe to work in the scriptorium.|
The Burned Man begins to heal and even stands on his own for the first time. Marianne continues to visit him in the hospital, and over a picnic, she tells him the tragic story of Graziana and Francesco Corsellini.
In 1347, Francesco was a talented blacksmith, married to Graziana, the love of his life. Sadly, she contracts the plague, and her fate is sealed. Rather than abandon Graziana and save himself, Francesco brings her food and tenderly cares for her. He too contracts the plague.
Sayuri shares her story of breaking tradition and moving from Japan to Australia. Gregor develops a crush on Sayuri. The Burned Man is angry that Marianne has not visited him for several days and cruelly insults Sayuri. The Burned Man is ashamed of his outburst and makes amends with Marianne’s help. Gregor also chastises the Burned Man for his rudeness, and the Burned Man makes a concentrated effort to become a better person.
|3||Marianne tells the Burned Man the story of Vicky Wennington, a refined Victorian woman who fell in love with a farmer, Tom. Tragically, after the birth of their son, Tom is lost at sea. Vicky spends every morning for the next twenty-two years looking over the seaside cliffs, waiting for him to return.|
Marianne wants the Burned Man to come live with her when he is discharged from the hospital. So she throws a beautiful Christmas party for the ward and proves that she has the financial means to take care of him. Meanwhile, the Burned Man buys presents for the people in the hospital to thank them for their kindness, subtly setting up Gregor and Sayuri in the process.
Marianne tells the story of how she and the Burned Man met at Engelthal. He was a mercenary fighting in a Condotta and was struck by a flaming arrow, sustaining multiple burns. However, he was saved because he had a book in his front pocket that took the brunt of the arrow’s impact. At Engelthal, he had a vision that Marianne would heal him.
Gregor and Sayuri’s date is a smashing success. The Burned Man is finally released from the hospital and moves in with Marianne. She finally sees the extent of his injuries, much worse than his medieval counterpart suffered, but reminds him that she never loved him for his body. They make their first outing to the beach, under the cover of darkness.
|4||The book that saved the Burned Man’s life is “Inferno” by Dante Alighieri. Although the book is written in Italian, Marianne can translate it into German. The two fall in love as Marianne translates the texts and tends to his wounds. When the Burned Man heals, he wants her to leave the monastery and come with him.|
Marianne makes the difficult choice to leave all she ever knew to travel with the Burned Man to Mainz, a bustling city in 1300’s Germany. Marianne finds work as a scribe and bookbinder, and the Burned Man is eventually able to find work as a stonemason. The Burned Man asks Marianne to marry him.
The Burned Man meets Jack Meredith, Marianne’s manager, a blunt woman who cares for Marianne and has no sympathy for the Burned Man. Marianne shows the Burned Man her process for carving a stone statue. Her carving is a time-consuming, physically exhausting undertaking in which she refuses to eat or sleep until the statue’s “heart” is released.
The Burned Man must wear claustrophobic pressure garments to minimize scarring as he heals. He continues his sessions with Sayuri and Gregor, who are now an official couple. His morphine addiction becomes more severe, and he uses funds from Marianne to purchase massive quantities of the drug.
Marianne tells the Burned Man the story of Sei, a gifted glassblower from old Japan. Sei falls in love with Heisaku, a kind but simple farm boy, but a local feudal lord demands that she become his wife instead. If Sei refuses, the feudal lord threatens to execute her father. Sei thwarts the feudal lord by joining an order of silent nuns.
|5||Marianne tells the Burned Man the story of Siguror Sigurosson, an orphaned boy in Ninth Century Iceland. Sigur is an awkward man, but eventually, he strikes up a friendship with Einarr Einarsson, a carpenter and Viking. Einarr and Sigur become close friends. Sigur falls in love with Einarr but conceals his feelings out of respect for Einarr and his family. Until one night, under the effects of hallucinogenic mushrooms, Siguror reveals himself to Einarr with tragic results.|
Marianne takes the Burned Man to an elegant Halloween party. While dancing, the Burned Man notices people dressed as the characters from Marianne’s stories. However, it becomes clear to the Burned Man that these are not just costumed people but something more.
In Mainz, Marianne and the Burned Man eventually married and conceived a child. Though their happiness was disrupted when in the marketplace, he saw Brandeis, the friend who saved him from the Condotta. Brandeis desperately wants to leave the Condotta, and he reveals that it is under the leadership of Kuonrat the Ambitious, an evil, ruthless man.
Marianne and the Burned Man help Brandeis escape but must leave Mainz. They attempt to seek refuge at Engelthal but are refused, as Marianne’s name has been blackened by a cruel nun. Konrad tracks down Brandeis and the Burned Man while Marianne hides. Brandeis is executed swiftly, but Kuonrat wants to punish the Burned Man for aiding him, and so he orders his troops to shoot at the Burned Man with flaming arrows.
The heartbroken Marianne shoots the Burned Man through the heart with an arrow to spare her lover the pain of a second burning.
In the present day, Marianne’s carving becomes more intense and frenzied, taking a toll on her health. She tells the Burned Man that she has only 27 hearts remaining. The Burned Man begins to take care of her as Marianne neglects herself. Eventually, she tells him that she is going to die. The Burned Man begs her to stop, but she insists on carving until all of her hearts are gone.
She also tells him that before she dies, he must first quit his morphine addiction, and she destroys his hidden stash.
|6||The Burned Man must fight his morphine addiction, literally and metaphorically, and this takes him through Hell.|
Specifically, he goes through the Inferno, where he encounters the people from Marianne’s stories, each experiencing their own version of Hell. The Burned Man is unsure if he is in a hallucination or if what he is experiencing is real. As he travels, his burns heal, and he becomes handsome again. He treks deeper into Hell – navigating the City of Dis – only to end up on the cliffside with Vicky. She tells him he has a choice: to stay at the cliffside and remain beautiful or return to his burned body and Marianne.
He chooses to return to Marianne and breaks the worst of his addiction.
Marianne carves one last statue, that of the Burned Man, and then the two head to their beach. There, Marianne tells the Burned Man the end of their story.
Outside of Engelthel, Kuonrat and his troops chased the pregnant, sobbing Marianne onto an icy lake. The thin ice could not support her weight, and she plunged into the icy waters.
However, instead of darkness, there was light. Marianne found herself floating in a sea of light, outside of time and space, and there she awaited her sentence. In life, she gave her heart over to one other person, so she would receive thousands of hearts, all of which she must give away in her next life. All except for one.
Marianne’s penance would only end when she gave her last heart to her lover, who must release it to release her. From that moment onward, she began giving away her hearts.
When Marianne finishes speaking, the Burned Man is overcome. He tries to convince her that the story is not real and that she will live. He then tells her how much he loves her, how his accident was the best thing that ever happened to him because it brought him to her, and that the last word he will ever say is her name.
At peace, Marianne walks into the sea and is never seen again.
We see the fall out of her disappearance and how the Burned Man still loves her. However, despite this sorrow, we also see him live through times of joy. He is a groomsman at Gregor and Sayuri’s wedding; he begins to learn stonemasonry, and he even writes a book.
In a fascinating turn of events, the Burned Man locates Marianne’s safety deposit box and, within that box, finds two copies of Dante’s Inferno. The first is in Italian, and the second is a German translation, which pre-dates any known German translation of Inferno by more than four hundred years.
The Burned Man still misses Marianne terribly but realizes that as her penance has ended, so must his begin. He decides that when it is time, once he has truly released her, then he may join her again in the next world.
So, dear readers, what do you think? Would you watch this show? And if so, would the shadow puppets ruin it for you?
5 thoughts on ““The Gargoyle” Broke My Heart and Then Stapled it Back Together”
I would like shadow puppets!
YEEEEES someone needs to tell Netflix that the art of puppetry is alive and well
Given that we live in perpetual fire season in California, all I really remembered about this book was that someone was horribly burned and going through awful treatments. You have reminded me that there is SO MUCH MORE to it, and that in reality (at least my reality when I ready it) it is indeed a love story. You have made me want to re-read it now. I too would love to see it adapted by Netflix and would watch it for sure! Miss you!
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Mary, your kind comment made my day! I think your feelings make perfect sense – the main character goes through something horribly traumatic, and it can be difficult to experience that with him, especially given how the wildfires rage back home. I’m so glad that you enjoyed my perspective on this book! Reading this book made a difference in my life, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share that with other people. Please let me know if you have any book recommendations for me!
Are you a fan of the movie The Princess Bride? If so, the book has So Very Much More to it than the film. If I recall – I really enjoyed The Storyteller’s Secret. Not sure what your religious/spiritual leanings are, but one of my fave books is The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Depending on your leanings, you may find it sacrilegious. I found it hysterical.