site logo

The Story Of Glam

Categories: Modern Hauntings
Scary Books: The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
: Andrew Lang

There was a man named Thorhall, who lived at Thorhall-stead in

Forsaela-dala, which lies in the north of Iceland. He was a fairly

wealthy man, especially in cattle, so that no one round about had so

much live-stock as he had. He was not a chief, however, but an honest

and worthy yeoman.

"Now this man's place was greatly haunted, so that he could scarcely

get a shepherd to stay with him, and although he
sked the opinion of

many as to what he ought to do, he could find none to give him advice

of any worth.

"One summer at the Althing, or yearly assembly of the people, Thorhall

went to the booth of Skafti, the law man, who was the wisest of men

and gave good counsel when his opinion was asked. He received

Thorhall in a friendly way, because he knew he was a man of means, and

asked him what news he had.

"'I would have some good advice from you,' said Thorhall.

'"I am little able to give that,' said Skafti; 'but what is the


"'This is the way of it,' said Thorhall, 'I have had very bad luck

with my shepherds of late. Some of them get injured, and others will

not serve out their time; and now no one that knows how the case

stands will take the place at all.'

"'Then there must be some evil spirit there,' said Skafti, 'when men

are less willing to herd your sheep, than those of others. Now since

you have asked my advice, I will get a shepherd for you. Glam is his

name, he belongs to Sweden, and came out here last summer. He is big

and strong, but not very well liked by most people.'

"Thorhall said that he did not mind that, if he looked well after the

sheep. Skafti answered that there was no hope of other men doing it,

if Glam could not, seeing he was so strong and stout-hearted. Their

talk ended there, and Thorhall left the booth.

"This took place just at the breaking up of the assembly. Thorhall

missed two of his horses, and went to look for them in person, from

which it may be seen that he was no proud man. He went up to the

mountain ridge, and south along the fell that is called Armann's fell.

There he saw a man coming down from the wood, leading a horse laden

with bundles of brushwood. They soon met each other and Thorhall

asked his name. He said he was called Glam. He was tall of body, and

of strange appearance; his eyes were blue and staring, and his hair

wolf-grey in colour. Thorhall was a little startled when he saw him,

and was certain that this was the man he had been told about.

"'What work are you best fitted for?' he asked. Glam said that he was

good at keeping sheep in winter.

"'Will you look after _my_ sheep?' said Thorhall. 'Skafti has put you

into my hands.'

"'On this condition only will I take service with you,' said Glam,

'that I have my own free will, for I am ill-tempered if anything does

not please me.'

"'That will not harm me,' said Thorhall, 'and I should like you to

come to me.'

"'I will do so,' said Glam; 'but is there any trouble at your place?'

"'It is believed to be haunted,' said Thorhall.

"'I am not afraid of such bug-bears,' said Glam, 'and think that it

will be all the livelier for that.'

"'You will need all your boldness,' said Thorhall, 'It is best not to

be too frightened for one's self there.'

"After this they made a bargain between them, and Glam was to come

when the winter nights began. Then they parted, and Thorhall found

his horses where he had just newly looked for them, and rode home,

after thanking Skafti for his kindness.

"The summer passed, and Thorhall heard nothing of the shepherd, nor

did any one know the least about him, but at the time appointed he

came to Thorhall-stead. The yeoman received him well, but the others

did not like him, and the good-wife least of all. He began his work

among the sheep which gave him little trouble, for he had a loud,

hoarse voice, and the flock all ran together whenever he shouted.

There was a church at Thorhall-stead, but Glam would never go to it

nor join in the service. He was unbelieving, surly, and difficult to

deal with, and ever one felt a dislike towards him.

"So time went on till it came to Christmas eve. On that morning Glam

rose early and called for his food. The good-wife answered: 'It is

not the custom of Christian people to eat on this day, for to-morrow

is the first day of Christmas, and we ought to fast to-day'. Glam

replied: 'You have many foolish fashions that I see no good in. I

cannot see that men are any better off now than they were when they

never troubled themselves about such things. I think it was a far

better life when men were heathens; and now I want my food, and no

nonsense.' The good-wife answered: 'I am sure you will come to

sorrow to-day if you act thus perversely'.

"Glam bade her bring his food at once, or it would be the worse for

her. She was afraid to refuse, and after he had eaten he went out in

a great rage.

"The weather was very bad. It was dark and gloomy all round;

snowflakes fluttered about; loud noises were heard in the air, and it

grew worse and worse as the day wore on. They heard the shepherd's

voice during the forenoon, but less of him as the day passed. Then

the snow began to drift, and by evening there was a violent storm.

People came to the service in church, and the day wore on to evening,

but still Glam did not come home. There was some talk among them of

going to look for him, but no search was made on account of the storm

and the darkness.

"All Christmas eve Glam did not return, and in the morning men went to

look for him. They found the sheep scattered in the fens, beaten down

by the storm, or up on the hills. Thereafter they came to a place in

the valley where the snow was all trampled, as if there had been a

terrible struggle there, for stones and frozen earth were torn up all

round about. They looked carefully round the place, and found Glam

lying a short distance off, quite dead. He was black in colour, and

swollen up as big as an ox. They were horrified at the sight, and

shuddered in their hearts. However, they tried to carry him to the

church, but could get him no further than to the edge of a cleft, a

little lower down; so they left him there and went home and told their

master what had happened.

"Thorhall asked them what had been the cause of Glam's death. They

said that they had traced footprints as large as though the bottom of

a cask had been set down in the snow leading from where the trampled

place was up to the cliffs at the head of the valley, and all along

the track there were huge blood-stains. From this they guessed that

the evil spirit which lived there must have killed Glam, but had

received so much hurt that it had died, for nothing was ever seen of

it after.

"The second day of Christmas they tried again to bring Glam to the

church. They yoked horses to him, but after they had come down the

slope and reached level ground they could drag him no further, and he

had to be left there.

"On the third day a priest went with them, but Glam was not be found,

although they searched for him all day. The priest refused to go a

second time, and the shepherd was found at once when the priest was

not present. So they gave over their attempts to take him to the

church, and buried him on the spot.

"Soon after this they became aware that Glam was not lying quiet, and

great damage was done by him, for many that saw him fell into a swoon,

or lost their reason. Immediately after Yule men believed that they

saw him about the farm itself, and grew terribly frightened, so that

many of them ran away. After this Glam began to ride on the house-top

by night, {259} and nearly shook it to pieces, and then he walked

about almost night and day. Men hardly dared to go up into the

valley, even although they had urgent business there, and every one in

the district thought great harm of the matter.

"In spring, Thorhall got new men, and started the farm again, while

Glam's walkings began to grow less frequent as the days grew longer.

So time went on, until it was mid-summer. That summer a ship from

Norway came into Huna-water (a firth to the north of Thorhall-stead),

and had on board a man called Thorgaut. He was foreign by birth, big

of body, and as strong as any two men. He was unhired and unmarried,

and was looking for some employment, as he was penniless. Thorhall

rode to the ship, and found Thorgaut there. He asked him whether he

would enter his service. Thorgaut answered that he might well do so,

and that he did not care much what work he did.

"'You must know, however,' said Thorhall, 'that it is not good for any

faint-hearted man to live at my place, on account of the hauntings

that have been of late, and I do not wish to deceive you in any way.'

"'I do not think myself utterly lost although I see some wretched

ghosts,' said Thorgaut. 'It will be no light matter for others if _I_

am scared, and I will not throw up the place on that account.'

"Their bargain was quickly made, and Thorgaut was to have charge of

the sheep during the winter. The summer went past, and Thorgaut began

his duties with the winter nights, and was well liked by every one.

Glam began to come again, and rode on the house-top, which Thorgaut

thought great sport, and said that the thrall would have to come to

close quarters before he would be afraid of him. Thorhall bade him

not say too much about it. 'It will be better for you,' said he, 'if

you have no trial of each other.'

"'Your courage has indeed been shaken out of you,' said Thorgaut, 'but

I am not going to fall dead for such talk.'

"The winter went on till Christmas came again, and on Christmas eve

the shepherd went out to his sheep. 'I trust,' said the good-wife,

'that things will not go after the old fashion.'

"'Have no fear of that, good-wife,' said Thorgaut; 'there will be

something worth talking about if I don't come back.'

"The weather was very cold, and a heavy drift blowing. Thorgaut was

in the habit of coming home when it was half-dark, but on this

occasion he did not return at his usual time. People came to church,

and they now began to think that things were not unlikely to fall out

as they had done before. Thorhall wished to make search for the

shepherd, but the church-goers refused, saying that they would not

risk themselves in the hands of evil demons by night, and so no search

was made.

"After their morning meal on Christmas day they went out to look for

the shepherd. They first made their way to Glam's cairn, guessing

that he was the cause of the man's disappearance. On coming near to

this they saw great tidings, for there they found the shepherd with

his neck broken and every bone in his body smashed in pieces. They

carried him to the church, and he did no harm to any man thereafter.

But Glam began to gather strength anew, and now went so far in his

mischief that every one fled from Thorhall-stead, except the yeoman

and his wife.

"The same cattleman, however, had been there for a long time, and

Thorhall would not let him leave, because he was so faithful and so

careful. He was very old, and did not want to go away either, for he

saw that everything his master had would go to wreck and ruin, if

there was no one to look after it.

"One morning after the middle of winter the good-wife went out to the

byre to milk the cows. It was broad daylight by this time, for no one

ventured to be outside earlier than that, except the cattleman, who

always went out when it began to grow clear. She heard a great noise

and fearful bellowing in the byre, and ran into the house again,

crying out and saying that some awful thing was going on there.

Thorhall went out to the cattle and found them goring each other with

their horns. To get out of their way, he went through into the barn,

and in doing this he saw the cattleman lying on his back with his head

in one stall and his feet in another. He went up to him and felt him

and soon found that he was dead, with his back broken over the upright

stone between two of the stalls.

"The yeoman thought it high time to leave the place now, and fled from

his farm with all that he could remove. All the live-stock that he

left behind was killed by Glam, who then went through the whole glen

and laid waste all the farms up from Tongue.

"Thorhall spent the rest of the winter with various friends. No one

could go up into the glen with horse or dog, for these were killed at

once; but when spring came again and the days began to lengthen,

Glam's walkings grew less frequent, and Thorhall determined to return

to his homestead. He had difficulty in getting servants, but managed

to set up his home again at Thorhall-stead. Things went just as

before. When autumn came, the hauntings began again, and now it was

the yeoman's daughter who was most assailed, till in the end she died

of fright. Many plans were tried, but all to no effect, and it seemed

as if all Water-dale would be laid waste unless some remedy could be


"All this befell in the days of Grettir, the son of Asmund, who was

the strongest man of his day in Iceland. He had been abroad at this

time, outlawed for three years, and was only eighteen years of age

when he returned. He had been at home all through the autumn, but

when the winter nights were well advanced, he rode north to Water-

dale, and came to Tongue, where lived his uncle Jokull. His uncle

received him heartily, and he stayed there for three nights. At this

time there was so much talk about Glam's walkings, that nothing was so

largely spoken of as these. Grettir inquired closely about all that

had happened, and Jokull said that the stories told no more than had

indeed taken place; 'but are you intending to go there, kinsman?' said

he. Grettir answered that he was. Jokull bade him not do so, 'for it

is a dangerous undertaking, and a great risk for your friends to lose

you, for in our opinion there is not another like you among the young

men, and "ill will come of ill" where Glam is. Far better it is to

deal with mortal men than with such evil spirits.'

"Grettir, however, said that he had a mind to fare to Thorhall-stead,

and see how things had been going on there. Jokull replied: 'I see

now that it is of no use to hold you back, but the saying is true that

"good luck and good heart are not the same'". Grettir answered:

'"Woe stands at one man's door when it has entered another's house".

Think how it may go with yourself before the end.'

"'It may be,' said Jokull, 'that both of us see some way into the

future, and yet neither of us can do anything to prevent it.'

"After this they parted, and neither liked the other's forebodings.

"Grettir rode to Thorhall-stead, and the yeoman received him heartily.

He asked Grettir where he was going, who said that he wished to stay

there all night if he would allow him. Thorhall said that he would be

very glad if he would stay, 'but few men count it a gain to be guests

here for long. You must have heard how matters stand, and I shall be

very unwilling for you to come to any harm on my account. And even

although you yourself escape safe and sound, I know for certain that

you will lose your horse, for no man that comes here can keep that


"Grettir answered that there were horses enough to be got, whatever

might happen to this one. Thorhall was delighted that he was willing

to stay, and gave him the heartiest reception. The horse was strongly

secured in an out-house; then they went to sleep, and that night

passed without Glam appearing.

"'Your coming here,' said Thorhall, 'has made a happy change, for Glam

is in the habit of riding the house every night, or breaking up the

doors, as you may see for yourself.'

"'Then one of two things will happen,' said Grettir; 'either he will

not restrain himself for long, or the hauntings will cease for more

than one night. I shall stay for another night, and see how things


"After this they went to look at Grettir's horse, and found that he

had not been meddled with, so the yeoman thought that everything was

going on well, Grettir stayed another night, and still the thrall did

not come about them. Thorhall thought that things were looking

brighter, but when he went to look to Grettir's horse he found the

out-house broken up, the horse dragged outside, and every bone in it

broken. He told Grettir what had happened, and advised him to secure

his own safety, 'for your death is certain if you wait for Glam'.

"Grettir answered: 'The least I can get for my horse is to see the

thrall'. Thorhall replied that it would do him no good to see him,

'for he is unlike anything in human shape; but I am fain of every hour

that you are willing to stay here'.

"The day wore on, and when it was bed-time Grettir would not take off

his clothes, but lay down on the floor over against Thorhall's bed-

closet. He put a thick cloak above himself, buttoning one end beneath

his feet, and doubling the other under his head, while he looked out

at the hole for the neck. There was a strong plank in front of the

floored space, and against this he pressed his feet. The door-

fittings were all broken off from the outer door, but there was a

hurdle set up instead, and roughly secured. The wainscot that had

once stretched across the hall was all broken down, both above and

below the cross-beam. The beds were all pulled out of their places,

and everything was in confusion.

"A light was left burning in the hall, and when the third part of the

night was past Grettir heard loud noises outside. Then something went

up on top of the house, and rode above the hall, beating the roof with

its heels till every beam cracked. This went on for a long time; then

it came down off the house and went to the door. When this was opened

Grettir saw the thrall thrust in his head; ghastly big he seemed, and

wonderfully huge of feature. Glam came in slowly, and raised himself

up when he was inside the doorway, till he loomed up against the roof.

Then he turned his face down the hall, laid his arms on the cross-

beam, and glared all over the place. Thorhall gave no sign during all

this, for he thought it bad enough to hear what was going on outside.

"Grettir lay still and never moved. Glam saw that there was a bundle

lying on the floor, and moved further up the hall and grasped the

cloak firmly. Grettir placed his feet against the plank, and yielded

not the least. Glam tugged a second time, much harder than before,

but still the cloak did not move. A third time he pulled with both

his hands, so hard that he raised Grettir up from the floor, and now

they wrenched the cloak asunder between them. Glam stood staring at

the piece which he held in his hands, and wondering greatly who could

have pulled so hard against him. At that moment Grettir sprang in

under the monster's hands, and threw his arms around his waist,

intending to make him fall backwards. Glam, however, bore down upon

him so strongly that Grettir was forced to give way before him. He

then tried to stay himself against the seat-boards, but these gave way

with him, and everything that came in their path was broken.

"Glam wanted to get him outside, and although Grettir set his feet

against everything that he could, yet Glam succeeded in dragging him

out into the porch. There they had a fierce struggle, for the thrall

meant to have him out of doors, while Grettir saw that bad as it was

to deal with Glam inside the house it would be worse outside, and

therefore strove with all his might against being carried out. When

they came into the porch Glam put forth all his strength, and pulled

Grettir close to him. When Grettir saw that he could not stay himself

he suddenly changed his plan, and threw himself as hard as he could

against the monster's breast, setting both his feet against an earth-

fast stone that lay in the doorway. Glam was not prepared for this,

being then in the act of pulling Grettir towards him, so he fell

backwards and went crashing out through the door, his shoulders

catching the lintel as he fell. The roof of the porch was wrenched in

two, both rafters and frozen thatch, and backwards out of the house

went Glam, with Grettir above him.

"Outside there was bright moonshine and broken clouds, which sometimes

drifted over the moon and sometimes left it clear. At the moment when

Glam fell the cloud passed off the moon, and he cast up his eyes

sharply towards it; and Grettir himself said that this was the only

sight he ever saw that terrified him. Then Grettir grew so helpless,

both by reason of his weariness and at seeing Glam roll his eyes so

horribly, that he was unable to draw his dagger, and lay well-nigh

between life and death.

"But in this was Glam's might more fiendish than that of most other

ghosts, that he spoke in this fashion: 'Great eagerness have you

shown to meet me, Grettir, and little wonder will it be though you get

no great good fortune from me; but this I may tell you, that you have

now received only half of the strength and vigour that was destined

for you if you had not met with me. I cannot now take from you the

strength you have already gained, but this I can see to, that you will

never be stronger than you are now, and yet you are strong enough, as

many a man shall feel. Hitherto you have been famous for your deeds,

but henceforth you shall be a manslayer and an outlaw, and most of

your deeds will turn to your own hurt and misfortune. Outlawed you

shall be, and ever have a solitary life for your lot; and this, too, I

lay upon you, ever to see these eyes of mine before your own, and then

you will think it hard to be alone, and that will bring you to your


"When Glam had said this the faintness passed off Grettir, and he then

drew his dagger, cut off Glam's head, and laid it beside his thigh.

Thorhall then came out, having put on his clothes while Glam was

talking, but never venturing to come near until he had fallen. He

praised God, and thanked Grettir for overcoming the unclean spirit.

Then they set to work, and burned Glam to ashes, which they placed in

a sack, and buried where cattle were least likely to pasture or men to

tread. When this was done they went home again, and it was now near


"Thorhall sent to the next farm for the men there, and told them what

had taken place. All thought highly of the exploit that heard of it,

and it was the common talk that in all Iceland there was no man like

Grettir Asnundarson for strength and courage and all kinds of bodily

feats. Thorhall gave him a good horse when he went away, as well as a

fine suit of clothes, for the ones he had been wearing were all torn

to pieces. The two then parted with the utmost friendship.

"Thence Grettir rode to the Ridge in Water-dale, where his kinsman

Thorvald received him heartily, and asked closely concerning his

encounter with Glam. Grettir told him how he had fared, and said that

his strength was never put to harder proof, so long did the struggle

between them last. Thorvald bade him be quiet and gentle in his

conduct, and things would go well with him, otherwise his troubles

would be many. Grettir answered that his temper was not improved; he

was more easily roused than ever, and less able to bear opposition.

In this, too, he felt a great change, that he had become so much

afraid of the dark that he dared not go anywhere alone after night

began to fall, for then he saw phantoms and monsters of every kind.

So it has become a saying ever since then, when folk see things very

different from what they are, that Glam lends them his eyes, or gives

them glam-sight.

"This fear of solitude brought Grettir, at last, to his end."

Ghosts being seldom dangerous to human life, we follow up the

homicidal Glam with a Scottish traditional story of malevolent and

murderous sprites.