Some monsters have a pretty stable look. Ask ten people to describe Jason Voorhees and things will stay in the same blood-splattered ballpark. Other creatures have a more varied image. Take Bigfoot, for example. Whether you first saw a gentle giant in a children's book or the menacing fuzzy hand come through the bathroom window in The Legend of Boggy Creek, that initial impressions colors your imagination forever.
I just found where my Grendel came from, and he's got quite the pedigree.
I had a book series called Childcraft as a kid. I got introduced to a lot of things in there, from Flatland to A Wizard of Earthsea. And, having recently rediscovered my copy of The Magic of Words volume, I found this inside...
That vaguely Native American bad-ass with the thousand-yard stare brought back memories. He was the psychopath I pictured while reading John Gardner's Beowulf in high school. I suddenly remembered the amazing image waiting on the next page, and gently turned it as if I had discovered the missing chapter from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. What awaited me did not disappoint.
That's it! That's him! That was the image I'd always had of Grendel in my head, the archetype for all my giants and ogres burned into my cerebellum.
And Childcraft knew better than to illustrate the full end of the tale.
I kept flipping through, and was stunned to suffer one of those moments where the world becomes smaller. The illustrator was Brian Froud, who did the visual designs for Jim Henson's Labyrinth.
I'd been a huge fan of Labyrinth since high school, once spending a weekend ding nothing but re-watching the VHS and playing X-Com: Terror From the Deep, forever cementing together in my head killer shellfish, fiery death, and David Bowie's mystical expanding groin.
It's weird to realize exactly who's had an effect on you when you're young. Thank you, Mister Froud. You gave me more monsters than I had realized.
If anyone else has realized that something from your childhood had an unexpected pedigree, leave it in the comments.