"It is a fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak."
I didn't know the legend of Puck when I was child. However, Puck is a trickster, and hence belongs to an archetype that has been a favourite of mine since I was knee-high to a grasshopper (well, knee-high to my parents. I was never quite insect size).
I suppose my first exposure to Puck was a comic book superhero. Eugene Milton Judd aka Puck was a member of Alpha Flight, a team of Canadian superheroes that were spun off from Marvel Comics' Uncanny X-Men. This Puck was a short, gruff, hot-tempered, former mercenary with a heart of gold. His black costume and tendency to do somersaults and cartwheels suggest that this Alphan took his name from not from the Shakespearean Puck, but from the hockey puck, the black rubber disc used in Canada's national pasttime. But surprisingly for a bar bouncer, Judd was fond of Shakespeare. And even though he was in great pain from his "dwarfism" (stunted growth in the long bones), Puck went through life with a great sense of humour. (At least until another writer got his hands on the character and made him a whiny, self-pitying idiot made short by magic. But that's too horrible a story to tell. And fortunately, other writers have ignored it.)
A letter to an early issue of Alpha Flight mentioned how Judd took his name from Shakespeare as well as hockey.
Funny enough it was another comic book which properly introduced me to the mythical Puck. In the late summer of 1991, I started reading Neil Gaiman's superb dark fantasy series The Sandman. DC Comics had just started releasing trade paperback collections of the earlier issues. One of them was called Dream Country. One of the issues that volume reprinted was issue 19, the World Fantasy Award-winning "A Midsummer Night's Dream". In a previous issue, the personification of dreams, Morpheus, had made a deal with Shakespeare he gave the bard the power to "give men dreams that would live on long after I am dead." The price was two plays to be commissioned for the Dream King. The first, "A Midsummer Night's Dream", was performed live before the real Puck, Auberon, Titania, etc. To prep myself for the issue, I read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for the first time.
About a year later, I did a presentation on Elizabethan Faeries for my third year Shakespeare class at university. For the same class, I also wrote an essay on Puck as the Shakespearean fool. And at some point I probably re-read my Robin Hood books to discover that some people linked Puck, also called Robin Goodfellow, with Robin Hood.
And all this stuck in my head when I was revising a Robin Hood short story I had written. In the original version, an unspecified devil was involved. But then it hit me that Puck would be the perfect character to play the supernatural part in the story. I won't go into too many details. It's been years, and I'm still tinkering with the story. I'd like to publish it some day.
While researching this story, I decided to get a new alias for my computer activities. Fionn mac Cumhail, after the Irish hero, and Morpheus, after the Sandman, were getting a bit stale. I looked around my room for inspiration. And my eyes landed on my copy of Dobson and Taylor's Rymes of Robin Hood . Robin Hood ... hmmm, I loved the outlaw legend. But somehow it seemed too ordinary, too predictable. But what about Robin Goodfellow? It was perfect! It had ties to Robin Hood, was magical, related to the Shakespearean fool. Unlike my rotating aliases of the past, this one stuck. So, even now I often go by Robin Goodfellow or Puck on the computer. Some friends tell me that it's very appropriate.
Since then, I've discovered lots of Puck appearances, like in the wonderful Disney cartoon, Gargoyles, or in the novels and short stories of Charles de Lint and Clayton Emery. I read Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill , the classic turn of the century children's book. And I found some old Robin Goodfellow ballads which you'll find on this website. Puck appeared in more issues of The Sandman. And in my first month at journalism school (1994), I had a chance to interview Sandman creator, Neil Gaiman. He signed my copy of the "A Midsumer Night's Dream" issue.
In 1996, the Canadian Stage Company produced A Midsummer Night's Dream in Toronto's High Park. The acting, sets, costumes, natural environment and, of course, the script all clicked. Their Puck was incredibly acrobatic and just plain perfect. But I have to admit the hit of the show was the very Cockney Nick Bottom.
It's not surprising I took a liking to Puck or Robin Goodfellow. Puck is a trickster, a mythological character I've loved since childhood. You can check out my Robin Hood pages for my lifelong interest in one particular trickster. But others include Bugs Bunny (who is a hundred times better than that stupid mouse) and even Spider-Man. When I was in public school, I used to read this children's version of Greek myths. My favourite Greek god was Hermes, the messenger of gods, who as a fleet-footed and quick-witted baby stole Apollo's cattle. I used to pretend to be an avatar of Hermes, which is rather amusing considering I am anything but quick.
So just what is a trickster and what does it mean to me? Well, that's what the next section is about.
Have you ever been frustrated with society? Do the rules and laws stop making sense to you at times? They do to me. And do you ever feel like an outcast? That you're removed from the rest of society? That's another trickster trait. Robin Hood and Spider-Man are outlaws. Robin Goodfellow and the Trickster of the Winnebago natives of North America are outcasts from their societies. Puck, and faeries like him -- brownies, hobs, etc. -- rarely interact with the faerie court.
The trickster is a force of nature and instinct. And I've been accused of thinking too much. So, there's something enticing about pranks and a devil-may-care attitude. I enjoy shaking my head at things and just thinking "Lord, what fools these mortals be." Sometimes instead of getting angry, or perhaps as an outlet of my anger, I just curl my lips up in a puckish smile and laugh at a life that seems increasingly stupid. Tricksters are considered primitive, naive, even ignorant. But sometimes they also possess a wisdom others do not. The fools in Shakespeare, and Puck is one of them, often make wise comments amidst their jokes. There's a reason why some tarot decks place the Fool with the World, the ultimate stage of enlightenment.
Spider-Man is an excellent example of the modern trickster. Peter Parker is studious, guilt-ridden and hyper-responsible. But when Peter puts on his webbed mask, he manages to cut loose. He jokes constantly and thumbs his nose at foolish authority. He swings from sky-scrappers, not giving a damn about heights. Wouldn't we all love to shelve our neuroses and worries and just "BE" for a while?
But the trickster isn't all good. There is a major dark side. Robin Goodfellow's pranks are mischievous more than out and out evil. Robin Hood's thefts don't seem too bad. But the Devil is often a trickster too. (One 17th century woodcut depicts a very demonic looking Robin Goodfellow.) In Norse mythology, Loki the trickster helps the AEsir in some stories (like when he recovers Thor's hammer), but he conspired to have Baldr killed. And when the world ends, Loki will be on the side of the bad guys. Even the most benign tricksters have a dark side to them. It seems that tricksters are beyond normal definitions of good and evil. They are a force all their own.
Which can be quite annoying to others. I know I've said some thoughtless things when I've been joking. There can be consequences to being a trickster. Whether it's getting kicked out of town like Robin Goodfellow is, or the nastier fate of Loki who is bound in the entrails of his own son, stinging venom dripping on his face. Loki was punished for disrupting a banquet of the Norse gods and mixing "their mead with malice" by insulting the guests. Tricksters can be real jerks and it's easy to lose friends by being too much a trickster. Let's face it, Bugs Bunny is fun to watch. But would you really want to deal with someone like that?
Also, tricksters can be gullible idiots. The story of the trickster being tricked is a common motif. Puck gets confused in A Midsummer Night's Dream and gives the love potion to the wrong Athenians. And the Winnebago trickster? He mistakes the watery reflection of plums for the real thing. He gets tricked out of a meal by foxes, and then burns his own arse as punishment. Another time, he gets buried in a mountain of his own excrement. As the Winnebago trickster often laments, trickster can mean "foolish one".
Who wants to get covered in their own feces? But it happens, doesn't it? I know I make an ass out of myself far, far too often. (Sometimes people think I'm foolish because they don't realize I am joking. Other times, I was just being an idiot.) And while a trickster can laugh off his folly, I am not so lucky. I tend to dwell on my shortcomings for years. There's something really attractive about trickster figures like Puck. Tricksters don't dwell on things.
But they don't learn either, do they? Tricksters keep making the same mistakes, over and over. Jungians think of the trickster as the hero in adolescence. Well, in some ways, it's great to keep a youthful, child-like side. Too many adults lose something precious when they grow up. On the other hand, do you really want to have all the faults of a teenager for the rest of your life?
Having said all this about the trickster archetype, I must say it's wrong to associate too strongly with an archetype. Even the complex, contradictory nature of the trickster is two-dimensional. It's a universal image for telling tall tales. But we are all individuals and it's the height of folly to give up our own personality in favour of a mythic caricature.
Still there are things to be learned from the stories of Puck and other tricksters. The concept of a free spirit is still very appealing. Just remember not to slip in your own crap on the path to being free. Or at least try to laugh about it.
One of the best books on the trickster is The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology by Paul Radin. My copy includes various essays and commentaries as well as native stories. One of the best is C.J. Jung's "On the Psychology of the Trickster Figure." Although this book does not mention the Puck legend, it was a major source for this page.
So, what's your interest in the trickster legends? Do you agree or disagree with what I've said? I'd love to discuss anything on this page with you. Please e-mail me .
If you're interested in books and videos on Puck and trickster lore, please visit A Hobgoblin's Bookstore.
(C) Text Copyright 2004 Allen W. Wright