Friends in Grindylow Places


You might remember the Grindylows from their appearance in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which they lived in the lake at Hogwarts. They are an actual sort of creature from English folklore, being particularly associated with Yorkshire and Lancashire. They also appear in China Miéville’s The Scar, one of his Bas-Lag books, which makes them sadistic telepathic beings that live in water but are capable of surviving on land or in the air. In the original folklore, they serve as a warning for children not to get too close to ponds. They are said to live at the bottoms, and use their long, sinewy arms to drag down anyone who comes near. The creatures are sometimes described as having green skin, horns, and sharp green teeth. The Harry Potter version has tentacles like an octopus.

I’ve seen it said that they also sometimes dwell at the tops of trees, where they moan constantly. You can see some more artistic representations of Grindylows at this page. Accounts of Jenny Greenteeth are similar, although the name is thought to be related to the monster Grendel from Beowulf. This monster lives in a cave under a swamp, presumably rather than actually in the water. There’s little physical description of the guy. We know he’s basically man-shaped but hideous, with claws and possibly scales (that’s a question of translation).

It takes four men to carry his severed head, suggesting an enormous size.

I can’t help thinking of him as green, but that’s probably just because of his name.

After Beowulf kills Grendel, his mother seeks revenge, and there’s no real physical description of her either.

I do like imagining Grendel as the monstrous equivalent of a nerdy guy living in his mom’s basement. Both fiends are the descendants of the Biblical Cain. There’s no consensus on where the name Grendel comes from, with many possibilities having been suggested. By the way, would the opposite of a Grindylow be a Frowndehigh?


Also appearing in the Bas-Lag books are the Vodyanoi from Slavic mythology, other water dwellers known for dragging humans into the depths. It’s not too surprising that people throughout the world were terrified of what might be lurking under the water, and it’s not like they were wrong that there’s a lot of scary stuff there. The most common description of the Vodyanoi appears to be that of old men with green beards and webbed hands, sometimes having scales and glowing red eyes as well.

Other versions of the myth make them more seal-like, or essentially mermen. They live in often surprisingly opulent palaces at the bottoms of lakes, and either drown humans or take them as slaves. They ride around on submerged logs, and ruin dams as they see them as ruining the natural flow of the water. As much as they hate most humans, they can enter into symbiotic relationships with fishermen and millers, providing fish or keeping the mills running in exchange for offerings.

Vodyanoi were known to often take Rusalki as wives, a Rusalka being a ghost nymph who haunts a lake but usually isn’t said to cause any specific harm to humans. Some, however, will do the typical Siren routine of luring men (and probably some women) to their deaths.

Picture by Tomasz Strzelczyk-Stachura
A human woman generally becomes a Rusalka if she dies in or near a lake or river, although some versions of the myth say that any woman who dies before being married or becomes pregnant out of wedlock might turn into one. They’re often described as having pale skin, long hair, no pupils, and large breasts.

I would imagine some of those traits vary from one Rusalka to another, but they still sound more attractive than their male counterparts.

Actually, this Vodyanoi looks kind of cute, but not necessarily in a way you’d want to marry.

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This entry was posted in British, Etymology, Harry Potter, Monsters, Mythology, Slavic and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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