The Spectral Hound in Literature

Helena Senior
(University of York)

Who’s afraid of the big black dog? The origins of the spectral hound and its appropriation in literature.

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 12 December 2018
5.00 – 6.30 pm
Room NTC.2.05


Image of the Grim in Harry Potter’s tea cup during divination

The black dog is a spectral hound who has haunted Great Britain for hundreds of years. Under many guises and many names, it has roamed the Yorkshire Moors, defended graveyards, and been widely considered an omen of death. In this session, we will trace the history of the big black dog, and its appearances in literature. Starting with the mythological origins in Greek, Norse, and Egyptian religion, and their subsequent appropriation in Christianity, this session will touch on the devil dog, who was the familiar of witches in Jacobean England and the significance of that association. We will then move onto the local folktales told in the Victorian Era to Bram Stoker, and their influence upon his most famous novel, Dracula (1897). Finally, we will discuss the impact that hundreds of years of mythology and appropriation have had on JK Rowling’s Grim, and the role that Sirius Black plays in the Harry Potter series as a whole.

Set texts

  • Bram Stoker, Dracula (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), pp. 64- 69
  • JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1999), pp. 82-85

Secondary material

  • Thomas Dekker, John Ford, and William Rowley, The Witch of Edmonton, edited by Arthur F. Kinney (London: A & C Black, 1998), II. 120-181
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Helena Senior is a Masters by Research student at the University of York and her primary focus is Yorkshire in the Gothic Imagination. She has previously presented papers on mental health in Romantic women’s literature, and is the current deputy music editor at the University of York’s oldest newspaper, Nouse.

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‘Avianthropy’ and the sung ballad in “The Earl of Mar’s Daughter”

Dr Adrian May
(Department of LiFTS)
‘Avianthropy’ and the sung ballad in “The Earl of Mar’s Daughter”

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 28 November 2018
5.00 – 6.30 pm
Room NTC.2.05


Arthur Rackham, Earl Mar’s Daughter, ink and watercolour

The Earl of Mar’s Daughter (Child 270) is a forty-one stanza ballad, ostensibly a happy love story. Turned into a fairytale by Joseph Jacobs, it is bizarre and fantastic. It is also a tale of high magic and of people turning into birds and a mythic exploration of transformative flights of love, comparable with Cupid and Psyche. The texts of the Child ballads (1882-1898) preceded the publication of the music by over sixty years, but hearing the ballad sung in full can give an insight into its dramatic and cumulative effects where the whole might be seen in its ritual purpose.

As well as singing the rarely-heard ballad in full, Adrian will talk about bird, love and maturation symbolism and myth and the history of The Earl of Mar’s Daughter, as well as about ballads generally.

Dr Adrian May is the author of Myth and Creative Writing (2011) and The Magic of Writing (2018) and is a folksinger and songwriter.

Text: The Earl of Mar’s Daughter

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Monstrosity and Love in The Shape of Water

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 14 November 2018
5.00 – 6.30 pm
Room NTC.2.05

Eirini Apanomeritaki and Stefanie Savva will introduce this week’s discussion on Monstrosity and Love in The Shape of Water (2017).


A scene from “The Shape of Water,” featuring Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins. Credit Fox Searchlight Pictures.

In his latest movie, The Shape of Water (2017), Guillermo del Toro narrates the story of how a janitor in a top-secret facility falls in love with a creature in captivity. Making links with the tale of Cupid and Psyche, this session will explore the theme of dangerous curiosity and how the interactions between humans and creatures can assist in negotiating love, disability and death. Del Toro invites us to consider our understanding of monstrosity by re-imagining stories of beauties and beasts through the lens of the Cold War era.

Suggested viewing and reading:

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The Man of the Wood

In May, the Centre for Myth Studies celebrated its tenth anniversary with a day of lectures, readings, and discussions (details here). The event included Dr Saul Andreetti reading from his short story, The Man of the Wood.

Saul is an Essex alumnus, poet, translator, and long-standing friend of the Centre. He was present at the start of the Myth Reading Group in 2010, and is currently co-organising a conference at the University of Bologna with the title Myth and Dream / The Dreaming of Myth – Sogno e mito / sognare il mito (conference dates 23-24 May 2019, deadline for proposals 1 February 2019).

The Man of the Wood is an enchanted tale which weaves together a number of mythical motifs, such as the quest, the trickster, cyclical time, simultaneity, metamorphosis, katabasis, and namelessness, to create an integrated modern story of quiet, enigmatic potency. We are delighted that Saul has allowed us to share his tale with our readers:

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Windigos, Wingigog and Windikouk

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 31 October 2018
5.00 – 6.00 pm
Room NTC.2.05

This week Léna Remy-Kovach (University of Freiburg) will join us by Skype to lead a session on Windigos, Wingigog and Windikouk.

The Wendigo of the Great Lakes, by Norval Morrisseau

Norval Morrisseau (1931-2007), Wendigo of the Great Lakes


Léna Remy-Kovach, Windigos, Wingigog and Windikouk

The Windigo is a cannibalistic creature who haunts forests of the Atlantic Coast and the Great Lakes region. In Algonquian stories, it represents greed, anger, and most of all, insatiable hunger. Its loneliness and gluttony make it prey on humans for food, and each feeding makes it crave more victims. In recent Indigenous fiction, this traditional figure of the monstrous Other has evolved into an allegory of colonial violence. From a Winter Spirit who wanders the woods at night looking for victims to Catholic priests abusing Indigenous children in Residential Schools. In this session we will discuss the various forms, old and new, taken by this ancestral shapeshifter.

Text: Louise Erdrich, “Windigo”, Jacklight (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1984).

Léna Remy-Kovach is a doctoral student at the University of Freiburg, Germany. Her current research projects include the commodification of Indigenous monsters in Euro-American horror TV series, the use of classic European monsters in Indigenous literature about colonialism, and the imagery of hunger and cannibalism in recent Young Adult fiction by Indigenous writers. Her Ph.D. thesis focuses on the notions of healing and (re)conciliation in contemporary Gothic Indigenous literature from Turtle Island (Canada and the United States.).


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Conferences in Rome and Paros

Two forthcoming conferences with an element of myth have been brought to our attention:

  • Symposium on the Greeks (28-30 June 2019 on the Cycladic island of Paros; deadline for proposals 31 October 2018)
  • Keats and Mythology (22-23 February 2019 at the British School at Rome; deadline for abstracts 1 November 2018)

And don’t forget that submissions are still open for two previously advertised conferences:

It won’t be impossible to attend them all!

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An Assyrian Lamassu in London

The Myth Reading Group returns.

Wednesday 17 October 2018
5.00 – 6.30 pm
Room NTC.2.05

Lamassus from the North-West Palace (Room B, the Throne Room) of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, in modern-day Nineveh Governorate, Iraq. An eagle-headed Apkallus from the Ninruta Temple at Nimrud appears at the left and, above it, another human-headed Apkallu from the North-West Palace was placed. 9th century BC. The British Museum, London.

Lamassus from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud. 9th century BC. Now in the British Museum. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Our founding director, Leon Burnett, opens the new year of myth-exploration. The topic for this term is Animals and Mythical Creatures.

In the build up to the Great Exhibition (1851), one of the landmark events of Queen Victoria’s reign, a massive mythological creature from Assyria, part bull and part human, was imported into London setting up an improbable encounter between a fallen empire and a thriving one. Dante Gabriel Rossetti – poet, painter, translator – was on hand to capture the moment and proffer an insight, in his poem ‘The Burden of Nineveh’, into this meeting of myth and materialism. In the opening session of the Myth Reading Group, we shall consider the context, then and now, of a lamassu in London.

Text: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, ‘The Burden of Nineveh’ (1870)

Secondary material:

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