“My dear,” Professor Trelawney’s huge eyes opened dramatically, “you have the Grim.”
That’s right! What is the Grim in the Harry Potter universe? What inspired it? Today, we’re diving into the subject of that black spectral dog we’re introduced to in this book—THE GRIM.
Welcome back to Muggles and Mocha! As I’ve mentioned in previous videos, the Grim is so fascinating to me. Get ready to break down the real-world inspirations behind this creature, this dark omen, and the significance of what it represents in this series.
In our video, we talk about the chapter as a whole. And guys… I even brought some tea for the occasion! Let’s talk about Divination, Trelawney, and tea leaves! As always, there are spoilers starting now.
What Is the Grim?
When Harry first sees the Grim on the cover of Unfogging the Future in Flourish and Blotts, he has no idea how this symbol will impact his life. When he glimpses it, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban describes it as, “a black dog large as a bear with gleaming eyes.” Harry thinks back to that eerie moment in Magnolia Crescent and believes this is the creature he saw. From then on, he can’t seem to escape this strange dog… Then, his fears are confirmed when, in his first Divination class at Hogwarts, Professor Trelawney informs him that the image of the Grim is in his tea leaves.
At this news, the class begins to panic, and Trelawney further explains,
“The Grim, my dear, the Grim!” cried Professor Trelawney, who looked shocked that Harry hadn’t understood, “the giant, spectral dog that haunts churchyards! My dear boy, it is an omen—the worst omen—of death!”
We can always trust Trelawney to be extra dramatic, and she doesn’t disappoint here.
We later learn from Ron that what Trelawney said was true—at least, regarding how the Wizarding world views the Grim, that is. It’s considered a death omen of the worst kind. Ron is constantly on edge when discussing the topic after this moment, and he even says his Uncle Bilius was suspected to have died after seeing a Grim. All of this is terrible news for Harry, who was feeling nervous about seeing this dog before now anyway.
So where did the inspiration behind the Grim come from? There’s a lot of speculation about this topic, but you may be interested to learn that creatures similar to the Grim are pretty common throughout European folklore.
Some “Grim” Folklore
It hasn’t been confirmed what inspired J.K. Rowling’s Grim, but below is a list of some possibilities! From my research, there’s a lot of talk about “black, spectral dogs that haunt churchyards,” and I’m certain these legends helped Rowling create the Grim in the Harry Potter books.
Bungay Black Dog or Black Shuck (English Folklore)
This fearsome black dog was believed to attack those who stayed outdoors too late at night, especially during cold weather. Anyone who glimpsed the Black Shuck “described a large dog with black, mangy fur. These dogs would supposedly be larger-than-normal with some even as big as a horse. They were foaming at the mouth as if deranged, rabid, or ravenously focused on hunting for their next meal.”
The Black Shuck would appear without warning, attack, then disappear just as quickly. One commonality between the Black Shuck and Harry Potter’s Grim is this dog was also an omen of death:
“And if you did catch a glimpse of one, it was believed to be either a protective spirit or a portent of death—a family guardian watching over everyone or a warning of certain doom.”“Black Shuck: The Mythic Hellhound Of Medieval England Said To Portend Your Death” by William DeLong
In Harry’s case, the Grim turned out to be a “family guardian!” Pretty neat!
Another bit of information I found interesting was the story behind the name “Bungay Black Dog,” which was inspired by an infamous “attack” that happened in Bungay. Here’s what I found in my research:
“Legend has it that on 4th August 1577, a large black dog burst in through the doors of St Mary’s Church in Bungay to a clap of thunder. It ran up the nave, past a large congregation, killing a man and boy and causing the church steeple to collapse through the roof, before moving on to Blythburgh Church where it mauled and killed more people. Local accounts attribute the event to the Devil—the scorch marks on the door of Blythburgh Church are referred to by the locals as “the devil’s fingerprints” which can be seen at the church to this day.”“The Legend of the Bungay Black Dog” in The Suffolk Coast
Pretty creepy! This is the main tale that inspired the Black Shuck/Bungay Black Dog legend, along with the sounds of “howling” winds during winter storms—the sound was sometimes attributed to the Black Shuck.
Cù Sìth (Scottish Folklore) and Cù Sìdhe (Irish Folklore)
The Cù Sìth/Cù Sìdhe is also a large dog similar to the Grim. Like the Grim, this creature is also thought of as a messenger/omen of death. For the Scottish version, the dog is dark green instead of black, symbolizing its affiliation with fairies, while the Irish version is black with shaggy hair. One website discussing the Cù Sìth even mentioned the Harry Potter books when discussing this creature’s appearance in pop culture and literature:
“Similar creatures have appeared in popular culture. Although much more similar to the Irish which is a large black dog with shaggy hair – The Grim from the Harry Potter series seems to be inspired by these folklore tales. J.K Rowling took a lot of inspiration from Scottish locations and folklore for Harry Potter and it seems to be the case here too. The Grim, first appearing in The Prisoner of Azkaban, was also an omen of death and Harry had multiple encounters with it throughout the book with many of his friends and teachers being concerned with it signalling his death.”“Scottish Folklore – Cat Sìth & Cù-Sìth” on Timberbush Tours
Barghest (Northern English Folklore, specifically Yorkshire)
This creature is described as a huge, vicious “goblin” dog with sharp teeth. It, too, was considered to be an omen of death:
“It was believed that those who saw one clearly would die soon after, while those who caught only a glimpse of the beast would live on, but only for some months. The Demon of Tidworth, the Black Dog of Winchester, the Padfoot of Wakefield, and the Barghest of Burnley are all related apparitions.”“Barghest” in Encyclopaedia Brittanica
Speaking of Padfoot… It’s interesting this is the nickname Sirius is given by his friends. I’d never realized it was another reference to the Grim until this research! Coincidence?
The Church Grim (Scandinavian and English Folklore)
In her description of the Grim, Professor Trelawney references that the Grim “haunts churchyards.” This aspect of the legend could have been taken from the Church Grim, which was a “guardian spirit” of churches:
“Like many spectral black dogs, the grim, according to Yorkshire tradition, is also an ominous portent and is known to toll the church bell at midnight before a death takes place. During funerals the presiding clergyman may see the grim looking out from the churchtower and determine from its aspect whether the soul of the deceased is destined for Heaven or Hell. The grim inhabits the churchyard day and night and is associated with dark stormy weather. The Scandinavian version dwells in the churchtower or some other place of concealment, or wanders the grounds at night, and is tasked with protecting the sacred building.”“Church Grim” on Myths and Folklore Fandom Website
I found this legend particularly interesting and think it’s definitely a possibility that this component of the Grim came from this tale.
This list includes only a couple of the possible inspirations behind the Grim in Harry Potter, but I think there’s a high probability this creature was a mixture of a couple of these folktales. As we’ve learned, Grim-like creatures were present in much of the folklore around Europe. Of course, folklore varies from place to place, and the legends I mentioned may not apply to everyone who lives in that area.
The Grim in the Harry Potter Books
No matter the inspiration, the Grim plays an interesting role in the book series, especially in Prisoner of Azkaban. Here are a couple of points about how the Grim functions in Harry’s journey.
First and foremost, I find the transformation the Grim makes in Harry’s mind (as well as ours) extremely compelling. It changes from an omen of death to a symbol of family. At the beginning of this book, Harry is scared of the Grim. He feels as if he’s seeing it everywhere and believes it means danger for him—or, at worst, death.
Eventually, Harry recognizes it as a guardian—it’s revealed that the black “Grim” he’s seen is none other than his godfather, Sirius Black, who has been watching over him. Now, when he sees a large black dog, an omen that once filled him with distress, he sees his godfather. It transforms into a symbol of love, happiness, and family.
Let’s play devil’s advocate, though. Here’s something else to consider:
As we’ve established, Sirius’s animagus form is visually similar to the death omen, the Grim. You could argue that the Grim, in being Sirius’s animagus, actually foreshadows his eventual death and the profound effect it will have on Harry. Sirius’s death is the first one that has a personal, serious impact on Harry’s life. Think about the scene in Dumbledore’s office after Sirius’s death and Harry’s response… This is a game-changing situation for this kid, and it’s also the moment we see Harry truly struggle with the concept of death for the first time (my favorite moment in the book series!)
While Harry grows to view the Grim as a representation of family and his godfather (as Sirius’s animagus), you could argue it simply continues to represent what it always has—loss and death, which we can see through Sirius’s death.
In the end, this omen could represent a lot of different things, depending on your point of view. I do personally enjoy how, in this book, the Grim’s symbolism seems to get flipped on its head.
What do you think? What’s you’re opinion on the Grim’s symbolism in this narrative? Let me know in the comments!
I hope you enjoyed the chapter and this article on the Grim. Don’t forget to watch our video for this week, where we discuss the chapter in full! It’s always a fun time.
For next time, read Chapter 7, “The Boggart in the Wardrobe!”
See ya later, Muggles!
Disclaimer: I do not own any element of the Harry Potter series.