A malicious Icelandic wizard once revived a dead, half-rotted eel, giving rise to an evil and toxic creature. It was the first Hrökkáll, or “coil-eel”. The wizard may be long dead, but the eel’s descendants went on to infest polluted waters.
A hrökkáll is two feet long, and resembles an eel in appearance. It lives in still ponds and stagnant water, and occasionally in running rivers. It has flexible, iron-hard scales, and sharp saw-toothed fins. As with many Icelandic fishes, it secretes corrosive venom and its meat is poisonous. Captured hrökkálls have been known to melt their way through earth and rock to squirm back into the water.
Hrökkálls lie in wait until someone steps in the water. Then they coil around the person’s leg and constrict it, slicing into flesh and bone alike and amputating the limb. It is unknown whether hrökkálls use their acidic venom or their bladed fins (or both) to do this. They will dismember humans and horses in this way, but sheep are safe as their legs are too narrow for the hrökkáll to gain a hold.
Hrökkáll in common parlance has since evolved to mean electric eels.
Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.
Zoëga, G. T. (1911) English-Icelandic Dictionary, Second Edition. Sigurdur Kristjansson, Reykjavik.