My first encounter with the Icelandic, child eating troll Gryla was in 2010 when I wrote a poem about her. The second encounter was a year later, on a street in Akureyri, a city in northern Iceland. She was there with her husband Leppaludi. While most people think she’s quite the hideous monster, I found her enduring, with her shock of white blonde hair and inquisitive eyes.
It’s said the first mention of Gryla is in the Prose Edda, and, while most people nowadays associate her with Christmas time, this association wasn’t actually mentioned until the 17th Century. It’s also believed that once upon a time, Gryla lived in a cottage, but then was forced to flee to the mountains where she found refuge in a cave.
At Christmas, Gryla comes down from her cave to hunt for children who’ve misbehaved. The children unfortunate enough to be found by Gryla are forced into sacks that are attached to her fifteen tails.
Once home, she puts the children in her stew pot. Like many folkloric monsters, Gryla’s appetite for the soft flesh of the young can never be satisfied and, interestingly, she only wants to eat bad children, as their flesh tastes the best.
Living with her in the cave is her third husband Leppaludi – she ate the other two – who is something of a lazy good-for-nothing. There’s also her enormous, human eating cat and her thirteen sons, The Yule Lads, who like nothing more than to terrorize humans during the thirteen nights before Christmas. Each Yule Lad’s name is based on his favourite way to harass. Back in times of yore, parents used the threat of Gyrla to such an extent that in 1746 a public decree was issued which forbade parents from frightening their children with more stories of the giantess and her sons.
Whenever there’s a modern take on a folkloric creature, I always like to investigate it. Most recently, Gryla made an appearance in The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina. As I’d quite enjoyed the show, I was really excited to see how Gryla had been interpreted. Unfortunately, I was thoroughly disappointed.
But there are always people who interpret folklore exquisitely. Here are some perfect artistic renditions of Gryla that I’ve collected today.