6 Nov 2022



They stare down at us from the roof and towers of our medieval churches: grotesque, monstrous, and utterly mesmerising. The gargoyles grimacing and leering at us down the centuries, taking the form of anything from a centaur to a cretinous imp, were put there in the Middle Ages to ward off the evil that lies beyond the holy ground.

But even in the modern era, our newspapers filled with tales of abduction and disaster, these magnificent works of sculpture and carving murmur to us of nightmares and nasty thoughts and intimations of our morality.

Mike Harding's travels have taken him not only from Cumbria to Somerset, but also to France, Italy and even northern India in search of the most memorable and malevolent gargoyles, celebrated here in his superb photographs and erudite, quirky text.

Here there are mouth-pullers and monster musicians, poking tongues and priapic giants, heads spouting water or silently howling with tooth-ache - not to mention the gargantuan cats glaring at us in Gloucester Cathedral. ... Inner Front Cover Blurb

What are these fantastic monsters doing in the cloisters under the very eyes of the brothers as they read? ... First Sentence, Introduction

I've been fascinated by gargoyles ever since I saw one as a girl on a school trip to York Minster oh so many years ago and so was delighted to find this little gem of a book in a recent visit to Carlisle Cathedral which is full of fantastical Gargoyles, grotesques and wonderfully weird sculptures*the 'drinking' and 'Janus' Heads of which get a brief mention in the book. 

Written and photographed {using, we are informed, a 'Nikon F3 with various lenses from 600mm to 20mm and Fuji Velvia film'} by Mike Harding who is perhaps best known as a poet and comedian, A Little Book of Gargoyles is a delightful little book with some wonderful photographs of the various 'Mouth-Pullers', 'Screaming Monsters', 'Devils & The Damned' and 'Men With Toothache' {to name but a few} that, with the exception of a few European places of worship, adorn a select few of the churches, cathedrals, minsters of England and Ireland.

I thought this a fun introduction to the wonderful and weird world of all things 'gargoyle' but I do wish there had been some further explanation/exploration of the nightmarish heads featured {but then I suppose it wouldn't have been so much A Little Book Of Gargoyles as A Big Book Of Gargoyles}. As it is Harding doesn't go into any great depths but rather whets the reader's appetite, encouraging us to look up and spot these grotesque and yet often humorous creations {the origins of which are discussed in the book} carved by one ancient stone mason or other {their names, if ever known, long since forgotten} all those centuries ago.

Talking of gargoyles in Carlisle Cathedral ... Positively one of my favourite cathedrals to visit, having promised to take some photographs of its beautiful ceiling for a friend, I looked up and spotted this dog gargoyle which was photographed by Mr T.



the bookworm said...

Glad you enjoyed this one, gargoyles are interesting to look at. I like the dog gargoyle photo!

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I have never been up country as far as Carlisle Cathedral, although I have visited York Minster, albeit like yourself, many years ago, and long before I too became a gargoyle spotter (how cute and unique is that dog gargoyle? I wonder about the history surrounding it).

We have a weekend job with a company called Treasure Trails, a part of which involves writing and maintaining trails in and around the many locations, both large and small, in our local area. (There is a whole network of trailers like us, all over the country, so there are over 1,200 trails altogether). Most locations have a church, cathedral, chapel or abbey, all of which are amazing in their own way, so we always try to include them in our tour, making us both, avid gargoyle and gravestone/graveyard geeks, in our search for clues!

Mike Harding has actually written several books, and if you like gargoyles, you might also enjoy 'A Little Book Of The Green Man' (check it out on Amazon) - I am definitely intrigued by that one!

Fantastic post :)

Kelly said...

I like gargoyles, too, so I think this would be a fun book! You tickled me with your comment about "little" book versus "big" book. I think this one actually did exactly what it was meant to do... whet your appetite to read more about the topic.

nightwingsraven said...

Gargoyles are fascinating and interesting.
And this sounds like a wonderful book, which
I will definitely keep in mind. As well as
that I appreciate Mr. T.'s picture of the dog

Heather said...

Sounds interesting!