A grimalkin, also known as a greymalkin, is an archaic term for a cat. The term stems from "grey" (the colour) plus "malkin", an archaic term with several meanings (a low class woman, a weakling, a mop, or a name) derived from a hypocoristic form of the female name Maud. Scottish legend makes reference to the grimalkin as a faery cat that dwells in the highlands.
During the early modern period, the name grimalkin – and cats in general – became associated with the devil and witchcraft. Women tried as witches in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were often accused of having a familiar, frequently a grimalkin.
Uses in fiction
Beware the Cat was published in 1570 by William Baldwin. The novel is a story of talking cats, and part of it relates the story of the Grimalkin's death. According to the editors of a modern edition, the story, and thus the name, originates with Baldwin in terms of being the earliest example known in print. It is also spelled Grimmalkin or Grimolochin.
A grimalkin appears in chapter 18 of The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The narrator questions if it's a cat looking at a mouse or the devil looking for a soul, in this case that of Judge Pyncheon.
A grimalkin is also mentioned in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, who briefly sits on a bench next to Mr. Lockwood before being removed hastily by Joseph.
A cat named Grimalkin appears in Shirley Jackson's short story "The Man in the Woods". It is soon ousted in a brief catfight by the new, unnamed black cat who has just arrived in the heels of the young protagonist Christopher. The new cat assumes the name of Grimalkin.
A grimalkin is mentioned in the Episode "The Joke's on Catwoman" (Episode 17 of Season 3) of the 1960's Batman TV Series.
Grimalkin is a character in The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. A malk, cat-like faerie acting as a servant to Mab. She uses him as an interpreter, with Grimalkin speaking to other people in her stead while she remains silent. He first appears in Summer Knight.
Grimalkin is the most powerful witch assassin in the popular young adult series The Spook's Apprentice by Joseph Delaney. She is depicted as a cruel torturer who uses a large pair of scissors to take the thumb bones of her enemies. Her main role is as a close ally and mentor of the main character, Thomas Ward.
A cat identified as a "Grey Malkin" (as of an exotic cat breed), is the eponymous subject of the serial story The Riddle of the Gray Malkin, starting with Part 1 in Issue #1899 (August, 2021) of the Australian published edition of The Phantom comic series.
A cat familiar named “Grimalkin” is the watch cat of Dr. Julian Karswell in the 1957 film Curse of the Demon directed by Jacques Tourneur.
Grimalkin is the name of a mysterious black cat in the game Cat Cafe Manager.
- "grimalkin, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, Web. 16 June 2015
- "malkin, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 27 October 2014.
- Baldwin, William (1570). Beware the Cat: The First English Novel, edited by William A. Ringler, Jr. and Michael Flachmann, Huntington Library Press, ISBN 0-87328-087-3 hardcover (1988), ISBN 0-87328-154-3 softcover (1995)
- "Obey the Kitty". Retrieved 20 March 2017.
- "The Phantom 1899 (Frew)". Retrieved 12 December 2021.