50% 1980’s Doctor Who, 50% Roald Dahl! That’s a pretty fair summation of the Welsh legend that is known as the Mud Maid. These supernatural creatures are weird! So weird in fact, I feel a little personally compromised even writing about them. Ghosts, possessions and demons I can do, but Mud Maids are different league altogether. The product of a deranged collective-imagination may be, Mud Maids at least deserve a mention for their kitsch appeal.
Picture the scene, you’re drunk, you’re alone and you’re stumbling home. By chance, your chosen route follows the contours of a large picturesque river. The moon is out in full splendour and fancy takes you to detour and take in the midnight watery scenery. You find yourself wandering the banks of the river, herons and ducks quacking as you press forward, homeward bound. In the distance you spot what looks little a large bundle of flotsam and weeds. It’s lapping the riverbank, with the ebb and flow of the waters. As you draw closer, you hear a muffled gurgling, spluttering, coughing noise; the sort of noise a drowning girl child might make. And lo, you behold a body, entangled in the aquatic flora, reeds and driftwood, twitching, moving, clearly still alive. You’re pulse quickens. What to do?
Inevitably, you race to the river’s shoreline and plunge into the icy water, diving into the mess of tangled detritus in a bid to extract the poor soul who has become imprisoned there in. You can feel her body, it’s not cold. She can be saved, just pull harder, lift more carefully and she’ll be saved. What a hero you’ll be. Everyone will want to buy you a drink tomorrow at the local pub. Just lift harder, pull more carefully and get the girl out the water. She can be saved and you’re the guy to do it.
But wait, you’re sinking. You’re already up to your knees in thick muddy river clay. You can’t move. The more you fight, the deeper you go. The water is up to your waist now and what’s worse, you’ve just realised that there is in fact no girl to be rescued in the mesh of reeds and driftwood. You know this for certain, because the mesh has began to enshroud you, curling round your arms, body and neck and pulling you down into the dark waters that are to become your final resting place.
This story definitely has the whiff of fairytale about it. It shares a lot in common with much earlier myths, such as that of the Grecian sirens, Indian mardulums and the South American river devils. In the Welsh version of the story, the hapless victim is invariably highly intoxicated, to the point that he is unable to reasonably judge the situation that confronts him. The story functions as a moralising allegory, warning against the dangers of excess. Such behaviour will inevitable pull the impeded lost soul down to a grim and lonely death. Mud Maids are weird and fun, but they are definitely a bit of supernatural fluff at most.