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Puck (mythology)

Puck is a mythological fairy or mischievous nature spirit. Puck is also a generalised personification of land spirits. Whilst being an aspect of Robin Goodfellow, he is also 'hob' and Will-o'-the-wisp.

Overview

The pagan trickster was reimagined in Old English puca (Christianized as "devil") as a kind of half-tamed woodland sprite, leading folk astray with echoes and lights in nighttime woodlands (like the German and Dutch "Weisse Frauen" and "Witte Wieven" and the French Dames Blanches - all "White Ladie"), or coming into the farmstead and souring milk in the churn.

Significantly for such a place-spirit or genius, the Old English word occurs mainly in placenames. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymology of the name Puck is "unsettled", and it is not even clear whether its origin is Germanic (cf. Old Norse puki,, Old Swedish puke, Icelandic puki, Frisian Puk) or Celtic (Welsh pwca and Irish púca). Etymology Online is in favour of puck being the English cognate of the Norse puki (and thus the other Germanic variants of puck) and also related to the English word pug. A logical inference would surmise that the Proto-Indo-European origin for both is earlier than the linguistic split.

The names of various creatures from Celtic folklore, including the Irish, púca, Welsh, "pwca" or "bwca", could be from the same Celtic family as the term "pixies" (in Cornwall, "Piskies"), however "piskie" could be related to the Swedish word "pyske" meaning "small fairy.

Other similar names:

  • In Friesland, there is a “Puk”
  • In old German, the “putz” or “butz” is a being not unlike the original English Puck.
  • The “Puk” (or the Draug) in Norwegian is a water sprite, a supernatural being of evil power.
  • In Icelandic a “Púki” is a little devil. “Púkinn” with the definite article suffix "-inn", "The Puck", means the Devil.

The folklore of Puck was magisterially assembled by William Bell, in two volumes that appeared in 1852 that have been called a "monument to nineteenth-century antiquarianism gone rampant.

Since, if you "speak of the Devil" he will appear, Puck's euphemistic "disguised" name is "Robin Goodfellow" or "Hobgoblin", in which "Hob" may substitute for "Rob" or may simply refer to the "goblin of the hearth" or hob. The name Robin is Middle English in origin, deriving from Old French Robin, the pet form for the name Robert (which had cognates in the Old English Hrodberht and Old German Rodbert or Hrodebert, all derived from the Proto-Germanic hrôdberxtas. See Robert). The earliest reference to "Robin Goodfellow" cited by the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1531. After Meyerbeer's successful opera Robert le Diable (1831), neo-medievalists and occultists began to apply the name Robin Goodfellow to the Devil, with appropriately extravagant imagery.

If you had the knack, Puck might do minor housework for you, quick fine needlework or butter-churning, which could be undone in a moment by his knavish tricks if you fell out of favor with him. "Those that Hob-goblin call you, and sweet Puck, / You do their work, and they shall have good luck" said one of William Shakespeare's fairies. Shakespeare's characterization of "shrewd and knavish" Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream may have revived flagging interest in Puck.

According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898):

[Robin Goodfellow is a] "drudging fiend", and merry domestic fairy, famous for mischievous pranks and practical jokes. At night-time he will sometimes do little services for the family over which he presides. The Scots call this domestic spirit a brownie; the Germans, kobold or Knecht Ruprecht. Scandinavians called it Nissë God-dreng. Puck, the jester of Fairy-court, is the same.

Puck in English literature

Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow, is a character in William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, whose nature has been so clearly fixed in the English-speaking imagination that, as Katherine Briggs has remarked, "it no longer seems natural to talk as Robert Burton does in the Anatomie of Melancholy of a puck instead of 'Puck'". The audience is introduced to Puck in Act II Scene I when Puck encounters one of Titania's fairies. She recognizes Puck for "that shrewd and knavish sprite

Call'd Robin Goodfellow: are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he?
It is Puck's mistaken doings that provide the convolutions of the plot.

Aside from Shakespeare's famous use of Puck, many other writers have referred to the spirit as well. An early 17th century broadside ballad, "The Mad Merry Pranks of Robin Goodfellow"—which is so deft and literate it has been taken for the work of Ben Jonson—describes Puck/Robin Goodfellow as the emissary of Oberon, the Faery King, inspiring night-terrors in old women but also carding their wool while they sleep, leading travellers astray, taking the shape of animals, blowing out the candles to kiss the girls in the darkness, twitching off their bedclothes, or making them fall out of bed on the cold floor, tattling secrets, and changing babes in cradles with elflings. All his work is done by moonlight, and his mocking, echoing laugh is "Ho ho ho!"

Robin Goodfellow is the main speaker in Jonson's 1612 masque Love Restored.

John Milton, in L'Allegro tells "how the drudging Goblin swet / To earn his cream-bowle duly set" by threshing a week's worth of grain in a night, and then, "stretch'd out all the chimney's length, / Basks at the fire his hairy strength." Milton's Puck is not small and sprightly, but nearer to a Green Man or a hairy woodwose. For followers of neo-Pagan imagery, sometimes the influence of Pan imagery has now given Puck the hindquarters and cloven hooves of a goat. He may even have small horns.

Goethe also used Puck in the first half of Faust, in a scene entitled "A Walpurgis Night Dream", where he played off of the spirit Ariel from The Tempest.

Puck's trademark laugh in the early ballads is "Ho ho ho. In modern mythology, the "merry old elf" who works with magical swiftness unseen in the night, who can "descry each thing that's done beneath the moone", whom we propitiate with a glass of milk, lest he put lumps of coal in the stockings we hang by the hob with care, and whose trademark laugh is "Ho ho ho"—is Santa Claus.

In Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), Puck, the last of the People of the Hills and "the oldest thing in England", charms the children Dan and Una with a collection of tales and visitors out of England's past.

Puck plays a central role in Mark Chadbourn's fantasy sequence, "Kingdom of the Serpent", comprising the novels "Jack of Ravens", "The Burning Man" and one yet to be published. Puck manipulates the heroes in an epic battle between good and evil over two thousand years of human history.

Pan, a Puck-like entity, is also a main character in Tom Robbins's novel Jitterbug Perfume.

The children's theater play Robin Goodfellow by Aurand Harris is a retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream from the point of view of Puck.

Puck in Modern media

Puck has also been loosely re-imagined in many modern comics. The Puck who appears in Neil Gaiman's comic, The Sandman, holds much closer to the idea of Puck as a trickster and maker of mischief. In Susanna Clarke's short story, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, Robin Goodfellow appears as a mischievous yet perhaps caring servant to Auberon. In Orson Scott Card's novel Magic Street, we get to know Puck, Queen Titania and Oberon in a modern, urban setting.

In the Manga Berserk, the main character Guts has an elf sidekick named Puck. Depicted as a small fairy-like creature, Puck provides comic relief and teases various characters that appear as ally or foe in the series.

In the animated series Gargoyles, Puck is a traditional Trickster and an important supporting character in the series. During the long exile from Avalon, Puck came across Queen Titania in the human guise of Anastasia Renard. He also met an extremely stiff man named Preston Vogel under Anastasia's employment. Puck, amused with the behaviour of the mortal Vogel, decided to try playing the role of the straight man for a while, and crafted himself into a man named Owen Burnett. As Owen, he eventually came to work for David Xanatos.

The character Aelita from the series Code Lyoko has a doll named Mister Pück, who is named after this spirit. It was given to her by her parents, Franz and Antea, many years ago during Christmas when she was a child.

Christopher Stasheff's 'Warlock' books include a variant of Puck, drawn from the collective memories / imagination of the settlers of the planet where most of the stories take place.

In the video game Final Fantasy IX, Puck is a mischievous Burmecian who shows up numerous times throughout the game to play tricks on the player's party. It is later revealed he is the missing Prince of Burmecia.

In Rob Thurman's novels, Nightlife and Moonshine, Robin Goodfellow and Hobgoblin are two separate beings, both remnants of the near-extinct race of pucks. In the novels, they are re-imagined in a modern setting, the former as the slick owner of a car dealership, the latter as the owner of a seedy nightclub.

In Raymond E. Feist's novel, 'Faerie Tale', Puck is a fey being in the faerie court and is portrayed as a jester of sorts, and stays true to the mythology of him as a trickster. At times throughout the novel he is referred to as Puck, Putz and Aerial, and assists the main characters of the story to prevent a great evil (King Oberon) from seizing global power over humanity; however it should be noted that he is a neutral character or sorts and assists only to achieve his own ends and become King Oberon himself, and also for the sake of being mischievous in and of itself, as he is also the emissary of the current King Oberon, and supposedly his subject, despite their rivalry and discontent with one another.

John Grant sets Puck or Robin Goodfellow as a vital character in his novel The Far Enough Window.

Puck is also one of the main characters in the series 'The Sisters Grimm'.

In the Warcraft III: Frozen Throne mod Defense of the Ancients, Puck is a Faerie Dragon, one of the playable characters of the game

In Pamela Dean's Tam Lin (a modern retelling of the Scottish faerie ballad), the character of Robin Armin is implied to be Puck; he had used the same name while performing as a singer and actor for The King's Men, and had been the inspiration for the Shakespearean Puck and several other comic characters, but he and the others of his troupe were unsuccessful in luring the Bard off to the Fair Lands.

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