Puck is a mischievous pre-Christian nature spirit.
The pagan trickster was reimagined in Old English puca (Christianized as "devil") as a kind of half-tamed woodland Sprite (creature), leading folk astray with echoes and lights in nighttime woodlands (like the French "White Ladies", the Dames Blanches), or coming into the farmstead and souring milk in the churn.
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.
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 “Pocker” in Swedish is the Devil.
Significantly for such a place-spirit or genius, the Old English word occurs mainly in placenames, which strongly suggests that the Puca was older in the landscape of Britain than the language itself. 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 languages (cf. Old Norse puki,) or Celtic languages (Welsh pwca and Irish púca ).
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.
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.
Art / Fiction
- 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!"
- 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 (god)|Pan imagery has now given Puck the hindquarters and Cloven-hoof|cloven hooves of a goat. He may even have small horns. In Ireland "puck" is said to be sometimes used for "goat".
- Goethe also used Puck in the first half of his Faust play, in a scene entitled A Walpurgis Night Dream, where he played off of the spirit Ariel from The Tempest.
- 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 has also been loosely re-imagined in many modern comics, but the house-elf Dobby in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series stays closer to the traditional, house-keeping qualities of Robin Goodfellow. However, 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 Orson Scott Card's novel Magic Street, we get to know Puck, Queen Titania and Oberon in a modern, urban setting.
- 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 Double act| straight man for a while, and crafted himself into a man named Owen Burnett. As Owen, he eventually came to work for David Xanatos.
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 the Manga Berserk, the main character Guts has an elf sidekick named Puck. Depicted as a small fairy-like creature, Puck provided comic relief and teased various characters that appear as allie or foe in the series.