Gargoyles are nocturnal animals that turn to stone during the day. They live in close-knit groups called clans that protect their rookeries and the surrounding area. They are one of the Three Races, the others being Humans and the Children of Oberon.
Gargoyles are bipedal gargates, and are generally more physically powerful than humans. They are related to gargoyle beasts, much as humans are related to apes. Being nocturnal, gargoyles are very adept at concealing themselves within shadows, perfectly camouflaging themselves in the dark for ambushes, or simply to get around stealthily. In fact, apart from their inherent strength and beastly features, the cover of the night is generally a gargoyle's strongest weapon against their adversaries.
Gargoyles exhibit tremendous visual variety. For example, some have hair and some don't. Most gargoyles have crests on their foreheads in addition to horns, but some gargoyles lack one, the other, or sometimes even both. Some have relatively round, humanoid faces; some have more animalistic snouts. Most have prehensile tails, many have six limbs (not including their tail) with four digits per limb: usually two arms (each with three fingers and an opposable thumb), two legs (each with three forward toes and a back claw) and two wings (where the four digits are often divided between ribbing for the wings and/or finger-like grasping claws at the wings apex), though among Mayan gargoyles it is not uncommon to have a snake tail instead of legs, and the Loch Ness gargoyles have dolphin-like tails instead of legs.
All gargoyles are shown to have a pair of wings that vary in appearance. Most of the gargoyles featured in the series had mammalian wings resembling a bat's, containing a variety of different digit-combinations, while others such as the London Clan, and some of the Mayan Clan, had avion wings, resembling a birds. The rarest wing variation are those like Lexington's, stretching between his arms and legs, rather than extending from his back as with other gargoyles, somewhat resembling a flying squirrel.
These wings are used for gliding as they are incapable of flight. Once in the air, they are adept at using up-drafts and down-drafts to simulate flight, and momentum to generate speed. But they need height to take off. They cannot flap their wings to power them into the air from ground level. They cannot take a running start to achieve flight. They cannot hover. If they're on the ground, there's only one way to get into the air: they must climb with their claws to a sufficient height and then jump. They are quite prehensile, able to fold around their bodies in a cape-like manner. The bones in the wings seem to curve when they do this, which suggests that the main "arm" of the wing is not a single, solid bone, but series of smaller connected bones, somewhat resembling a spinal column. This, however, is unconfirmed.
Gargoyles turn to stone, or a stone-like substance, at sunrise and will remain as such until nightfall, at which point the surface layer will crack and flake away, revealing flesh and blood underneath. Gargoyles generally refer to this as "sleeping". During this period (daytime) the stone form is absolute, and they are effectively indistinguishable from statues.
While in stone form, all physiological functions of the Gargoyle in question are stopped, with the exception of the their natural recuperative processes, which seems to be even augmented in exchange for the other bodily attributes halted throughout the duration of stone sleep.
The stone form appears to be quite durable, given that the Wyvern Clan, managed to survive a thousand years in this state, without any apparent degradation. It is not however indestructible, as a human with a strong arm, and the right bludgeoning tool can shatter it. A dismembered limb, for example, could not be reattached. If the stone form is seriously damaged, then the gargoyle will die, without ever waking up. In fact, a nighttime gargoyle corpse would not turn to stone, as it is a biological process.
If a gargoyle were wounded during the night, the transformation to stone would seal and heal any cuts, bruises or abrasions. If properly set, broken bones would knit during the day. Sore muscles would be refreshed. There do appear to be limits to this, however, as Hudson's eye never healed after the Archmage blinded it (although this could just as easily be the result of the injury being magical in nature, or the effect lessening with old age).
Eyes as an indication of rage
Male gargoyles' eyes glow white when in an excited stage, and females' eyes glow red, signaling an adrenal response. It is implied, but not out rightly stated, that when in this state, the Gargoyle in question will receive a boost in strength and stamina, similar to the fight or flight response in humans.
If a gargoyle should be cloned, a mutation of sorts takes place, which causes this to be reversed, and as such, the eyes of a male gargoyle clone will glow red, while a females will glow white. This is seen first in Thailog, and then later in the Labyrinth Clan Clones.
The reason this turned out this way is because at the time of Thailog's introduction, Demona was the only female Gargoyle that had been detailed. Since both had been placed in a position as antagonists, Thailog was given red eyes to match Demona's. The full details were not revealed until Angela's introduction, at the beginning of the Avalon World Tour story arc.
Gargoyles lay eggs, which look roughly like large stone cannonballs. The creator of the series, Greg Weisman, has stated that he considers gargoyles to be naturally attuned to the planet's rhythms. As such, female gargoyles will become fertile on the autumnal equinox every twentieth year, and will lay a single egg on the following spring equinox. All of the eggs will be stored together in the clan's rookery, and the communal hatching occurs ten years later. It is unknown how this would affect Gargoyles on Avalon, where time moves at a different rate.
Though few examples of ancestral connections have been identified, the standard result is that the Gargoyle's body structure will be derived from the matching gender parent (mother to daughter, father to son), while pigmentation will be derived from the other (father to daughter, mother to son). Both of these have been seen in Angela, and Nashville, and Broadway's body structure matches that of his supposed father, Hudson.
While not inherently immortal, gargoyles can be extremely long-lived, a result of stone sleep which seemingly slows or halts their aging process to an absolute still (possibly a state of suspended animation) until they wake again the following night. This was how the Manhattan Clan were able to survive all the way to the 20th Century, after Magus cast the spell where they won't awaken from stone form until "the castle rises above the clouds", being in stone sleep the whole time.
Even in old age (as evidenced in the episode Grief, and by Hudson throughout the series) they are not as frail and incapacitated as other creatures. Because they spend half their day asleep as stone, they age at half the rate of a human, thus living twice as long.
Their lifespans can also be affected through magical means, as in the case of Demona.
- "A gargoyle can no more stop protecting the castle than breathing the air."
- — Hudson
Gargoyles have the potential to be as smart as humans, but their animal instincts are stronger. Their thought processes tend to be simpler and more direct. The gargoyle culture is defined primarily by their natural instict to protect. They are very loyal to and protective of their territory and community. They are gaurdians by nature and will continue to help and protect any humans or within their "castle" or protectorate, even if those humans hate and fear them. However, there have been examples of gargoyles that have strayed from this path, suggesting that the gargoyle culture of protection might be more a matter of nurture than genetics. Gargoyles of old seem to believe that their brethren and human must coexist to fill the flaws of each other; with humans protecting gargoyles during the day, and gargoyles returning the favor during night time.
Historically, gargoyles did not believe in the necessity of names, and generally did not have them themselves. On rare occasion, the leader of a gargoyle clan would be given a name by the humans they protect. This, however, may have been unique to Scottish gargoyles, like the Wyvern Clan, or may no longer be the custom, as all of the gargoyles met on the Avalon World Tour had names.
Members of the clan are not necessarily related biologically (bloodlines are shown to mean little to most gargoyles during the course of the series). Nevertheless, the gargoyles in a clan will consider themselves members of a single extended family, often referring to others of their generation as "Rookery Brothers" or "Rookery Sisters". This reflects the fact that gargoyles are hatched from eggs, which are stored communally in a rookery. As such, parents are never certain which of the hatchlings is their biological offspring. Rather, hatchlings are "children of the entire clan".
A Wind Ceremony is the traditional gargoyle funeral ceremony held for a dead member of a gargoyle clan. The first stage of this ritual consists of reducing the deceased's body into powder form, either by cremating flesh, or pulverizing stone. Afterward a memorial is held on the highest peak in the region, at which anyone, friend and enemy alike, may speak of the departed. In the end, the mourners spread the remains upon the wind, while saying "Ashes to ashes OR dust to dust. All is one with the wind." The gargoyles then spread their wings, soaring amid the ashes or dust in the hope that part of the departed will stay with them forever.
Once there were gargoyles in every corner of the world. Although habits differed slightly from place to place, most gargoyles lived in and above a "Gargoyle Rookery". These rookeries were generally natural or gargoyle-dug tunnels in the sides of a cliff or tall mountain. (Gargoyles like being in high naturally protected areas.) Eggs would be hidden in the tunnels. Gargoyles would spend their nights guarding the rookery and foraging for food; their days hibernating in the open air. When the Iron Age of Man arrived, the transformation to stone, which had once been a natural form of protection became a liability. Men could safely seek out gargoyles during the day and use iron weapons to smash them to bits. Many gargoyles were destroyed, and the race nearly perished.
One factor saved them. Men were more afraid of each other than of gargoyles. One very wise man struck a deal with a gargoyle. He would build his keep on top of a gargoyle rookery. During the day, his archers could keep both humans and sleeping gargoyles safe from enemies and harm. During the night, the gargoyles would do likewise. It worked out great, and the idea caught on like wildfire. Soon castles, keeps and fortresses were popping up atop every accessible rookery. Existing castles and new castles that could not find a rookery to co-exist with were carving fake gargoyles out of stone, to fool potential enemies into believing that their castle was also protected by gargoyles. This was the golden age of human-gargoyle relations. But it couldn't last.