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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".
  • Astrologer: The poem "An Astrologer's Song", which accompanies a story about 17th-century astrologer and physician Nicholas Culpeper.
  • Cold Iron: Explored in "Cold Iron".
  • 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.
  • Framing Device: In-universe, the stories are being told to Dan and Una.
  • 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 Magic Goes Away: "Dymchurch Flit" is the story of why and how the People of the Hills left 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.

Alternative Title(s):

Rewards And Fairies