Literature / Puck of Pook's Hill

Puck of Pook's Hill is a book by Rudyard Kipling, published in 1906.

Two children, Dan and Una, while amusing themselves performing extracts from A Midsummer Night's Dream on Pook's Hill on Midsummer's Eve, inadvertantly summon up Puck, "the oldest Old Thing in England". He takes a liking to them, and offers to teach them about the history of the land.

The book proceeds in a series of short stories, in a variety of genres and styles, about events at various points in history. Some are narrated by Puck himself, others by figures he produces out of history by mysterious means, such as a Roman legionary and a knight who fought with William the Conqueror. Each story has a prologue and epilogue in which Dan and Una come to hear the story and then reflect on what they've heard; as usual for Kipling, there are also poems reflecting themes from the stories.

A sequel, Rewards and Fairies, was published in 1910 and continues in the same vein; it includes the first appearance of the famous poem "If—".

These books provide examples of:

  • Alternate Character Interpretation: A common trick of Kipling's was to follow up a short story with a poem looking at it from the point of view of a secondary character or villain. The results can be startlingly different — compare "The Knife and the Naked Chalk" to "The Song of the Men's Side".
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Hobden's son is described as "not quite right in the head", but able to do anything with bees. A disguised Puck implies his condition is a family blessing from the fairies, after one of his maternal ancestors helped the Fair Folk leave England. Specifically, "that no Trouble 'ud lie on, no Maid 'ud sigh on, no Night could frighten, no Fright could harm, no Harm could make sin, an' no Woman could make a fool of."
  • Astrologer: The poem "An Astrologer's Song", which accompanies a story about 17th-century astrologer and physician Nicholas Culpeper.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The gold Sir Richard hides in the well during "Old Men at Pevensey" reappears in "The Treasure and the Law", when Kadmiel's associate Elias finds it and plans on giving it to King John, who needs funding to keep up his war against the barons. Kadmiel takes the gold and throws it into the ocean in the hopes that without said funding, John will surrender and sign the Magna Carta, promising a new age of equality and freedom in England.
  • Cold Iron: Explored in "Cold Iron".
  • Cool Old Guy: Puck, naturally, as the self-proclaimed "oldest Old Thing in England".
  • The Fair Folk: Puck, and the People of the Hills who are mentioned in some of his stories. He scorns the term "fairy", associating it with the "painty-winged, wand-waving, sugar-and-shake-your-head set of impostors" of Victorian imagination.
  • Field Trip to the Past: An interesting variant; instead of visiting the past themselves, figures from England's history come across the children while they're out playing, and teach them their life stories.
  • Framing Device: In-universe, the stories are being told to Dan and Una.
  • Free-Range Children: Dan and Una are permitted to wander wide and far over the countryside without adult supervision.
  • The Great Wall: Parnesius the legionary tells a story about serving on Hadrian's Wall.
  • Greedy Jew: Subverted in "The Treasure and the Law".
  • Here There Were Dragons: Puck explains that apart from himself ("I came into England with Oak, Ash, and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash, and Thorn are gone I shall go too") all the magical people of myth and legend have left England.
    The People of the Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes and the rest — gone, all gone!
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: At the end of each story, Puck makes Dan and Una forget their meetings so they won't accidentally give any of his secrets away, though he does always restore their memories whenever they meet him again. In Rewards and Fairies, they start trying to outwit him so they can hold onto their memories, but he's always one step ahead.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: "Marklake Witches" plays with the trope by having it narrated by the character who's locked out of the loop — and who, at the close of the story, still hasn't realised there's a secret being kept from her, let alone learned what it is. Recognising that her various moments of bemusement are connected, and figuring out the nature of the connection, is left as an exercise for the reader, and if achieved alters the tone of the story significantly. The narrator, Philadelphia Bucksteed, is fatally ill with consumption, but thinks it is only a silly cough that will soon go away. All of the adults in Philadelphia's story know this, but none of them will let her know, so she can innocently enjoy as much of her short life as she can.
  • The Magic Goes Away: "Dymchurch Flit" is the story of why and how the People of the Hills left England.
  • Meaningful Name: Una shares her name with a heroine from The Faerie Queene, a famous allegorical poem about the history and culture of England.
  • Might Makes Right: The Baron's philosophy in "Cold Iron".
  • Mystery Cult: The Roman legionary, Parnesius, is a devotee of the Cult of Mithras.
  • No Ending: The last story in Rewards and Fairies ends in the usual way, with Puck making Dan and Una forget until next time. It's never established whether they will eventually get to keep their memories or one day forget him entirely.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Nicholas Culpeper examines the alchemical and astrological causes of bubonic plague, and reasons that it is caused by conflict between Mars and the Moon, and hence can be countered by eradicating the creatures of the Moon. The town has plenty of these, and killing them — rats — does indeed get rid of the plague.

Alternative Title(s): Rewards And Fairies