#5 A roguish yet on the whole benevolent fellow

A sneak peek at some of the denizens of fairyland you’ll meet in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies…

#5 Puck

Shakespeare’s merry jester.

Illustration ©Andy Paciorek
Illustration ©Andy Paciorek

Puck is now synonymous with the merry jester fairy in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, “pucks” already existed in British folklore before Shakespeare’s time as mischievous hobgoblins. “Puck” or “pouke” was an old word for devil, and variations of the name are found in various cultures: puki in Iceland, puk in Friesland and Jutland, pixy and pisky in Devon and Cornwall, phouka in Ireland, pwcca in Wales. Some say that Cwm Pwcca, or Puck Valley, in Wales, part of the romantic glen of the Clydach in Breconshire, was the original inspiration for the setting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Shakespeare established Puck and Robin Goodfellow as names that can be used interchangeably to refer to a roguish yet on the whole benevolent type of fairy. He drew on traditional country folklore in his characterization of Puck, describing him as “sometime a fire.” In Worcestershire a “poake-ledden” traveler was one who had encountered a mischievous poake sprite in the form of a flickering light that caused him to stray from the path. Puck took on the form of a will o’ the wisp to play his midnight pranks and delighted in leading night wanderers on a merry dance.

Check back to meet a fairy a day in the run up to the release of The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies on 28 August, 2014.