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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