Puck

That Shrewd and Knavish Sprite Called Robin Goodfellow

Puck: A Personal Journey

by Allen W. Wright.

"It is a fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak."

-- Neil Gaiman, Sandman #19 "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

My history with Puck and other tricksters

If you want to know about the actual legend of Puck, please check out my page Puck Through the Ages; The History of a Hobgoblin. This page is about I personally encountered the Puck story.

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).

A superhero named Puck

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.

Neil Gaiman's Puck

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. During an intermission, Puck takes over from actor Will Kemp and plays himself in the play.

To prep myself for the issue, I read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for the first time.

In academia and fiction

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. (I first wrote those words some 20 years ago, the story has long since vanished except from my memory.)

An online alias

This was a time before the Internet as we know it today. There was no Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. What would become known as the "world wide web" was a decidedly local affair. People hosted message boards (Bulletin Board System or BBS) on their home computers and we dialed up those computers on the phone using our slow modems. On some boards it was common to use an Internet alias.

While researching this Robin Hood/Puck 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 (well, in 1998) I often go by Robin Goodfellow or Puck on the computer. Some friends tell me that it's very appropriate. (I still use a variation of this alias "PuckRobin" on some message boards.)

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.

Additional Connections

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.

Over the years I've invested a lot more time and effort into my Robin Hood site. When it came time to revise the look of this site in 2019 I reread Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for the first time in several years. I'm deliighted to find the play's charms are still there -- it's fun and thoroughly accessible. I'm not at all surprised that is serves as the gateway to Shakespeare for so many.

As I write this in August 2019, I'm currently enjoying the various film adaptations of Shakespeare's play.

Part of the trickster tradition

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.

NEXT: WHAT THE TRICKSTER MEANS TO ME

Illustration Credits

Woodcut Images are taken from various collections of old English ballads

Puck (C) Marvel Comics. 2021, art by John Byrne

Puck from The Sandman  (C) DC Comics Inc. 2021, issue 19 art by Charles Vess

The use of the images from DC and Marvel Comics are in no way intended to infringe on their copyright of the artwork. They are used without permission for purposes of review or comment under the "fair use" provisions. This page is in no way affiliated with those companies.

The green-skinned Puck is Copyright 1997 Victoria Guthrie. (Used with Tori's kind permission.)  

The text, except where quoted, is copyright Allen W. Wright, 2021


Would you like to learn more about Puck or Robin Hood? Check out these other sections of this website

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