Gothic and Fantastic
The term Gothic brings images to our minds that range from an old tribe wandering through Europe that had a massive effect on the fall of the Roman Empire to a black-dressed subculture since the 1980s. Furthermore, this term covers on the one hand haunted mansions and castles with evil forces in them and on the other hand the cathedrals of the so-called ‚Dark Ages‘ with walls filled with glass and made of light. The manifold and contradicting matters and objects associated with Gothic makes it one of the most interesting and ambiguous terms in all fields of research.
In the context of the Fantastic, especially Fantasy and Science Fiction, the usage of the term Gothic might be a bit more clear. It is strongly connected to the birth of modern Fantastic literature in the 18th century with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), the first of the Gothic Novels that are inspiring literature, art and movies till today. With Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Edgar Allan Poe’s work (e.g. The Fall of the House Usher, 1839) and later Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula (1897), the connection between horror and architecture has found its foundation.
Those, and of course many other authors, used old mansions and castles to give the supernatural and the evil a home. Mostly, those monuments were shown in a Gothic-influenced architectural style or were borrowing architectural features from it. In combination with the Romanticist imagery of the 18th and 19th centuries using Gothic architecture, the connection between Gothic and Fantastic began.
Not only the first horror novels used medieval, or Gothic, settings to give evil a home. When the Fantastic turned more visual for a broader audience in the 20th century through movies and illustrations, comics, tv shows and fan art, and split more into different genres like fantasy, science fiction, horror, steam punk etc., the connection between the Gothic-styled architectures and evil settings remained. It can be found in the medieval-oriented fantasy, as well as in the futuristic science fiction. Gothic features and motifs are used in a decorative manner or to construct an entire building. The forms vary from historical receptions to varied, enhanced or transformed.
The video game Bloodborne
The video game Bloodborne was developed by FromSoftware and was published in 2015 by Sony for PlayStation 4. It is an action role-play game with a main character, called The Hunter, and its plot is focused on combat and exploration.
The world of Bloodborne is described as a decrepit Gothic, Victorian-era city named Yharnam, which was known for its medical advances and blood as its main part. After a plague hit the population and turned them into monsters and nightmares, the city is in decay, mostly abandoned and a place for evil to spread. Yharnam consists of different districts and levels and also has the ‚mandatory‘ dungeons with their horrors to overcome.
The game belongs to the horror genre and is set in the 19th century, using actual architectural references in combination with artistic imaginations and literal motifs, especially from Gothic novels like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the first horror authors like H. P. Lovecraft with his entities called The Old Ones.
The city consists of many tall and representative buildings with up to four stories or more. A lot of viewing points, for example the Great Bridge or the towers of the Grand Cathedral, also use the city’s silhouette with its pointy towers and spires as a background. All buildings follow the Gothic style of the 19th century, mostly in its English type, with pinnacles, finials and crockets everywhere. Especially the pinnacles are used as smaller endings of architectural elements like portals or edges all over. They align with the bigger roofs and towers which are demonstrativly pointy and serrated designed.
As described above, the basic elements of Gothic style over centuries can be found everywhere on the exteriors as on the interiors. Also smaller objects such as fireplaces or shelves are decorated with lancet arches and traceries.
A good example for an exterior design is Odeon Chapel. The six stories high facade is decorated with various Gothic architectural elements. All piers and edges are ending in pinnacles, the bigger pointed arches over the portals and windows are filled with quatrefoils and other tracery elements.
The mentioned viewing points show the combined result of this vertical elements: the city appears in a homogeneous look while using one style and thereby as an overwhelming mass with sharp edges and spikes.
Besides the unifying architectural look and the narrow setting of the buildings the color scheme with dark and dirty colors evokes the image of the city as one unit. Also, it is always night time or sunset with a cloudy sky and foggy weather that support the horror atmosphere and is used to underline the sharp and pointy appearance of the city.
Is Gothic evil?
With the Gothic style being used for centuries for representative functions, Divine contexts and as a visible, positive statement to the past, how could it turn dark and being used so often in the Fantastic medias in context of darkness, evilness and to characterize the homes of villains?
As mentioned before with the birth of the modern Fantastic in terms of Gothic novels, the connection between dark and evil settings and medieval architecture in form of Gothic styled ones was established from the beginning. Horace Walpole, Mary Shelley, later Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft used historical, medieval buildings to house the horror, the supernatural and the evil. Literature is an imaginative art, which is why it is not necessary to give full architectural descriptions. The reader fills the imaginative free space with their own experiences and ideas of how a medieval castle looks like.
But when the fantastic has to become visible, as in illustrations, films or series, clearer references are required. Already 500 years ago Italian architects portrayed the Gothic in a negative light and described it as “barbaric”. This pejorative view extends well into the 19th century.
It can be stated that the Gothic style in all its forms from a centuries long reception is favored in giving evil its right setting and home. The architectural strategies remain the same throughout the centuries both in real and fictional worlds; being used in the visual fantastic both for the good and the evil.
The distinguished and unique features of all Gothic styles in combination with special manipulations (such as light, surface, ambience, condition) qualifies this influential style to be favored by evil.