11 Miniature Mischief-Makers From World Folklore


Humans have always looked for an excuse when something goes wrong, and traditionally, mythical creatures have often provided the perfect scapegoat. The milk has curdled? Must be a brownie. Tools gone missing? Blame the knockers. Someone drank all your wine? Cellar must be infested with clurichauns.

Folklore around the world provides us with a host of these small fairy-like creatures, frequently treading a fine line between the malevolent and benevolent, and worryingly quick to take offense. So next time you break a vase or lose your keys, here are a sampling of miniature mischief-makers to take the blame.


Brownies are small, usually helpful spirits originating in Scotland and northern England. They are generally male and reside in the house carrying out useful household tasks such as churning butter or polishing floors. Brownies are either clad in rags or naked, and some folktales say that if you offer clothes to a brownie they will leave your home, either because they now have nice new clothes or because they are affronted by the gift.

Be warned, however: Brownies are quick to anger, and if you irritate a brownie you may live to regret it, as these once-helpful household friends can turn into boggarts. Boggarts are brownies gone bad—they break things, throw things, and are generally terrible house guests.


Cornwall, one location of the knockers. Image credit: iStock

Knockers are small, mostly benevolent creatures said to inhabit the tin mines of Cornwall; Welsh miners had a similar character known as the coblynau. Some think the myth developed from the strange knocking sounds miners heard while down the mine, the mysterious noises being attributed to the dwarf-like creatures thought to inhabit the subterranean world.

Many believed the knockers were helpful, alerting miners to rich seams of ore or warning them away from areas liable to collapse. But like most fairy folk, the knockers were also seen as keen pranksters and blamed every time a piece of equipment went missing or someone got lost down the mine. To appease the knockers, miners would leave food offerings on the floors of the mine and ensured they always spoke respectfully of the little creatures, so as to not provoke their ire.

During the California gold rush Cornish miners were in high demand due to their excellent mining skills, and as a result these legendary creatures spread to the United States, where they were often called TommyKnockers.


Trow are described as small, ugly, deformed creatures sometimes invisible to humans. At night the trow were thought to break into houses to warm themselves around the fire, while the terrified inhabitants cowered in their beds waiting for them to leave. In some folklore the trow were said to live in the ancient mounds called howes found across Orkney and Shetland; here they had lavish underground homes, where they hosted parties and sometimes kidnapped hapless humans who were forced to play endless jigs while the trow danced all night long. Trow also delight in causing mischief and so were generally blamed when the milk or ale went sour or something got lost; however, if a human managed to find an item belonging to a trow it was said to bestow its good luck on them.


A kobold by Willy Pogány via Wikipeda //  Public Domain

Kobolds are pointy-eared goblins found in German folklore. Rather like brownies, they are household sprites, making their homes in your home. Treat a kobold right and they will help out with chores, but annoy one (and let’s face it, most of these small folk are quite easily annoyed) and they will turn to mischief—toppling people over, hiding stuff, and generally causing trouble.

In German mythology there are three types of kobold: the household goblin, the kobold that inhabits mines (like the Cornish knocker), and a sea-faring kobold who lives aboard ships helping out with chores or causing mischief depending on his mood. Due to their unpredictable nature, the kobolds were often seen as undesirable house guests or bad omens—and is it any wonder when certain myths tell of angry kobolds chopping up the kitchen boy and adding him to the cooking pot?


Pixies (or piskys) are the classic miniature mischief-makers of English folklore. More commonly found in the West Country (Devon and Cornwall), pixies are said to be very small spirits, who wear natural colors such as greens and browns. Pixies love to play pranks and cause trouble and were traditionally blamed for all sorts of minor upsets, such as a blown-out candle, mysterious tapping, or an item getting lost. Pixies were said to be the scourge of travelers, as they have a habit of leading people astray, leaving them lost and disoriented. This gave rise to the word pixie-led, or pixilated, meaning bewildered or befuddled.


Leprechauns are probably the most famous mischievous fairy folk, instantly recognizable by their red hair and beards, smart emerald-green suits, and quick-witted Irish charm. The word leprechaun is likely derived from the old Irish word Lú Chorpain, meaning small body, and is also associated with the Irish word for shoe maker—leath bhrógan (the creatures are frequently depicted as cobblers).

Stories of leprechauns have existed for hundreds of years, and human obsession with the devious little creatures has probably been stoked by tales of their legendary pots of gold. Many of the myths surrounding the leprechauns revolve around stories of a human’s greedy and avaricious nature, which the leprechauns expose. A typical story involves a man capturing a leprechaun and demanding to know where his pot of gold is buried. The leprechaun then indicates the tree, and the man ties a red handkerchief on the tree so he might return with a shovel. However, when the man returns he discovers the wily leprechaun has tied red handkerchiefs to all the surrounding trees, thus protecting his gold from discovery.


Like their fairy cousins the leprechauns, clurichauns are small red-headed chaps in smartly turned-out suits, but these sprites are the wild child of folklore, and love to get roaring drunk. Clurichauns inhabit wine cellars, and as their ruddy complexion attests, spend most of their time sampling the contents of the hapless publican's or homeowner’s alcohol store. However, if you keep your clurichaun happy (by keeping your wine cellar well-stocked), he will protect your wine casks from leaks; annoy him, however, and soon all your wine will go bad and chaos will descend. Clurichauns love nothing better than a jolly good party and after a drink or three will often strike up a rousing rendition of an Irish folk song while riding around your house on the pet dog—what could be more charming?


Duendes are small elf-like creatures originally from Iberian folklore, a tradition that later migrated to South America. Notably, they have no thumbs. They have been known to be both good and bad, but all duendes are prone to mischief-making and will exact revenge if they feel they have been wronged. Across the Spanish-speaking world, many parents use tales of the duende stealing naughty children to encourage their offspring to behave. Like many goblins, duende like to skulk in dark corners of bedrooms or under beds, and be warned if you like to sleep with your feet outside the covers—they have been known to accidentally take off a toe or two when trying to trim the unkempt toenails of unsuspecting children.


Dokkaebi are Korean goblins that come in many guises. They are created when a discarded household item, such as a broom or a wooden spoon, gains a spirit and becomes animate. Dokkaebi are said to be ugly and troll-like in appearance and some have just one leg. Keen tricksters, they enjoy taunting humans, using their powers of persuasion to convince people to carry out pointless tasks like wrestling all night long. These Korean goblins can also shape-shift, and some tales tell of them transforming into a beautiful woman in order to seduce guileless men. Some dokkabei possess a magic club that allows them to summon any item they like, but whenever they magically summon something, it disappears from its original home.


Boroboro-Tonas depicted by Toriyama Sekien via Wikipedia // Public Domain

Like the Korean dokkaebi, Japanese tsukumogami are possessed household objects. Tradition has it that any tool over 100 years old may become animated with a soul and come to life. Every year on the Japanese New Year, people toss out their old tools. Unfortunately the discarded tools are pretty bitter about being thrown away after all their hard work, and so return to their homes to wreak havoc.

The tsukumogami come in numerous forms, with many tales telling of their exploits. One especially fearsome tsukumogami is Boroboro-Ton, a tattered old futon that comes to life and attempts to suffocate any human who dares sleep upon it by wrapping its raggedy form around them. In order to try and prevent old objects transforming into malicious tsukumogami, some people take them to the temple to be burned in the hope that they will move happily on to the afterlife.


Lutins originate in French folklore and have spread with French settlers to areas such as Quebec and Cajun territory. Lutins are hobgoblins whose main role in life is to cause strife for humans. They carry out all the usual fairy tricks, like making food go bad and stealing things, but their unique skill is hair-related mischief. Lutins love to create knots in the hair of horses or people and have been known to cut off the hair from unsuspecting sleeping humans. Some lutins have special magical objects such as a hat which bestows the power of invisibility, a very handy tool when playing pranks. But fear not, the naughty lutin can be frightened off with a thankfully plentiful resource—a liberal sprinkling of salt.

The Criterion Collection
14 Deep Facts About Valley of the Dolls
The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

Based on Jacqueline Susann's best-selling 1966 novel (which sold more than 30 million copies), Valley of the Dolls was a critically maligned film that somehow managed to gross $50 million when it was released 50 years ago, on December 15, 1967. Both the film and the novel focus on three young women—Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke), Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), and Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins)—who navigate the entertainment industry in both New York City and L.A., but end up getting addicted to barbiturates, a.k.a. “dolls.”

Years after its original release, the film became a so-bad-it’s-good classic about the perils of fame. John Williams received his first of 50 Oscar nominations for composing the score. Mark Robson directed it, and he notoriously fired the booze- and drug-addled Judy Garland, who was cast to play aging actress Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward took over), who was supposedly based on Garland. (Garland died on June 22, 1969 from a barbituate overdose.) Two months after Garland’s sudden demise, the Manson Family murdered the very pregnant Tate in August 1969.

Despite all of the glamour depicted in the movie and novel, Susann said, “Valley of the Dolls showed that a woman in a ranch house with three kids had a better life than what happened up there at the top.” A loose sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—which was written by Roger Ebert—was released in 1970, but it had little to do with the original. In 1981, a TV movie updated the Dolls. Here are 14 deep facts about the iconic guilty pleasure.


To promote the film, the studio hosted a month-long premiere party on a luxury liner. At a screening in Venice, Susann said the film “appalled” her, according to Parkins. She also thought Hollywood “had ruined her book,” and Susann asked to be taken off the boat. At one point she reportedly told Robson directly that she thought the film was “a piece of sh*t.”


Barbara Parkins had only been working with Judy Garland for two days when the legendary actress was fired for not coming out of her dressing room (and possibly being drunk). “I called up Jackie Susann, who I had become close to—I didn’t call up the director strangely enough—and I said, ‘What do I do? I’m nervous about going on the set with Judy Garland and I might get lost in this scene because she knows how to chew up the screen,’” Parkins told Windy City Times. “She said, ‘Honey, just go in there and enjoy her.’ So I went onto the set and Judy came up to me and wrapped her arms around me and said, ‘Oh, baby, let’s just do this scene,’ and she was wonderful.”


Costume designer William Travilla had to assemble 134 outfits for the four leading actresses. “I didn't have a script so I read the book and then the script once I got one,” he explained of his approach to the film. “I met with the director and producer and asked how they felt about each character and then I met with the girls and asked them what they liked and didn’t like and how they were feeling. Then I sat down with my feelings and captured their feelings, too.”


In an interview with Roger Ebert, Susann offered her thoughts on why Garland was let go. “Everybody keeps asking me why she was fired from the movie, as if it was my fault or something,” she said. “You know what I think went wrong? Here she was, raised in the great tradition of the studio stars, where they make 30 takes of every scene to get it right, and the other girls in the picture were all raised as television actresses. So they’re used to doing it right the first time. Judy just got rattled, that’s all.”


During an event at the Castro Theatre, Duke discussed working with Garland. “The director, who was the meanest son of a bitch I ever met in my life ... the director, he kept this icon, this sparrow, waiting and waiting,” Duke said. “She had to come in at 6:30 in the morning and he wouldn’t even plan to get to her until four in the afternoon. She was very down to earth, so she didn’t mind waiting. The director decided that some guy from some delicatessen on 33rd Street should talk to her, and she crumbled. And she was fired. She shouldn’t have been hired in the first place, in my opinion.”


All of Neely’s songs in the movie were dubbed, which disappointed Duke. “I knew I couldn’t sing like a trained singer,” she said. “But I thought it was important for Neely maybe to be pretty good in the beginning but the deterioration should be that raw, nerve-ending kind of the thing. And I couldn’t convince the director. They wanted to do a blanket dubbing. It just doesn’t have the passion I wanted it to have.”


Garland got revenge in “taking” the beaded pantsuit she was supposed to wear in the movie, and she was unabashed about it. “Well, about six months later, Judy’s going to open at the Palace,” Duke said. “I went to opening night at the Palace and out she came in her suit from Valley of the Dolls.”


Fox held a preview screening of the film at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, but the marquee only read “The Biggest Book of the Year.” “And the film was so campy, everyone roared with laughter,” producer David Brown told Vanity Fair. “One patron was so irate he poured his Coke all over Fox president Dick Zanuck in the lobby. And we knew we had a hit. Why? Because of the size of the audience—the book would bring them in.”


Twentieth Century Fox

Richard Dreyfuss made his big-screen debut near the end of Valley of the Dolls, playing an assistant stage manager who knocks on Neely’s door to find her intoxicated. After appearing on several TV shows, this was his first role in a movie, but it was uncredited. That same year, he also had a small role in The Graduate. Dreyfuss told The A.V. Club he was in the best film of 1967 (The Graduate) and the worst (Valley of the Dolls). “But then one day I realized that I had never actually seen Valley of the Dolls all the way through, so I finally did it,” he said. “And I realized that I was in the last 45 seconds of the worst film ever made. And I watched from the beginning with a growing sense of horror. And then I finally heard my line. And I thought, ‘I’ll never work again.’ But I used to make money by betting people about being in the best and worst films of 1967: No one would ever come up with the answer, so I’d make 20 bucks!”


In the 2006 documentary Gotta Get Off This Merry Go Round: Sex, Dolls & Showtunes, Barbara Parkins scolded the director for keeping the film’s pill addiction on the surface. “The director never took us aside and said, look this is the effect,” she said. “We didn’t go into depth about it. Now, if you would’ve had a Martin Scorsese come in and direct this film, he would’ve sat you down, he would’ve put you through the whole emotional, physical, mental feeling of what that drug was doing to you. This would’ve been a whole different film. He took us to one, maybe two levels of what it’s like to take pills. The whole thing was to show the bottle and to show the jelly beans kinda going back. That was the important thing for him, not the emotional part.”


In 1995, Los Angeles theater troupe Theatre-A-Go-Go! adapted the movie into a stage play. Kate Flannery, who’d go on to play Meredith Palmer on The Office, portrayed Neely. “Best thing about Valley of the Dolls to make fun of it is to actually just do it,” Flannery said in the Dolls doc. “You don’t need to change anything.” Parkins came to a production and approved of it. Eventually, the play headed to New York in an Off-Broadway version, with Illeana Douglas playing the Jackie Susann reporter role.


By 20th Century-Fox - eBayfrontback, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The night the Manson Family murdered Tate, the actress had invited Susann to her home for a dinner party. According to Vanity Fair, Rex Reed came by The Beverly Hills Hotel, where Susann was staying, and they decided to stay in instead of going to Tate’s. The next day Susann heard about the murder, and cried by the pool. A few years later, when Susann was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, she joked her death would’ve been quicker if she had gone to Tate’s that night.


Of all of the characters in the movie, Duke’s Neely is the most over-the-top. “I used to be embarrassed by it," Duke said in a 2003 interview. "I used to say very unkind things about it, and through the years there are so many people who have come to me, or written me, or emailed who love it so, that I figured they all can’t be wrong." She eventually appreciated the camp factor. “I can have fun with that,” she said. “And sometimes when I’m on location, there will be a few people who bring it up, and then we order pizza and rent a VCR and have a Valley night, and it is fabulous.”


In 2000, Grant, Duke, and Parkins reunited on The View. “It’s the best, funniest, worst movie ever made,” Grant stated. She then mentioned how she and Duke made a movie about killer bees called The Swarm. “Valley of the Dolls was like genius compared to it,” Grant said.

6 Tips From Experts on How to Fake Loving a Gift You Hate

In this season of holiday giving, it's almost inevitable that you're going to get a gift you just don't like—and nobody wants to hurt another person's feelings when they went to the trouble of buying you a gift. So as you struggle to say thanks for that gaudy scarf from a beloved relative, or that stinky perfume from a well-meaning coworker, we bring you these tips from Jack Brown, a physician and body language expert from New York, and Alicia Sanders, a California-based acting coach with the conservatory program Starting Arts, for how to fake enjoyment—at least until you can exchange your gift at the store.


Your inner voice may be saying "No!" the moment you peel pack that paper, but there may be a hidden yes inside you somewhere that you can mine for.

Sanders explains that the key to successful acting "is finding the truth in your scene." She encourages her students to tap into a moment when they felt the emotion they are trying to convey, for authenticity. "So you get an ugly sweater with a hideous shape and a terrible image, but you think the color blue is not so bad. You can say, ‘This color blue is so beautiful,' because it's truthful," she explains. The more you can find a real truth to speak from, "the more convincing you can be."

By opening with a grain of truth, you don't set yourself off on a chain of lies. "When you have to start to lie, that's when it's going to show through that you're an inexperienced actor, because you'll be more transparent," Sanders says.


However, faking joy runs deeper than just the words you speak. Sanders reminds us to think of what our hands are doing. "If you sit there statically, it feels like you're working too hard," she says.

Your hands can be a telltale giveaway that you don't really like a gift, according to Brown. People experiencing unhappy emotions tend to ball their hands into fists, tuck them against their bodies, or put them in their pockets. "If a person likes what they are getting, their arms and hands are going to go further out from the body, and tend to be more loose and relaxed," he says.

Similarly, we can reveal falsehood by touching our face or head, which often signals lying, anxiety, or discomfort, Brown says. People in these emotional states "tend to touch their face with one hand, and slowly. They might scratch near their eye, right in front of their ear, or their forehead."

Sanders suggests you put a hand on your chest or bring the gift closer to your body as a way of showing that you can stand to have it near you.


Indeed, the gift-giver is most likely going to be looking at your face when they assess your reaction, so this is the canvas upon which you must work your most convincing efforts at false gratitude.

While you may think a bright smile is the perfect way to fake joy, Brown says smiling convincingly when you're feeling the opposite is not as easy. "Most people aren't good at it," he says.

A fake smile is obvious to the onlooker. These usually start at the corners of the mouth—often showing both top and bottom teeth, he points out. A sincere smile almost always just shows your top teeth, and begins more from the mid-mouth. Another giveaway of a fake smile is tension in the mid-face: "If you see someone with mouth tension, where the mouth opening gets smaller, the person's got some anxiety there."


Smile with your eyes first, Brown advises. "Completely forget about your mouth," Brown instructs. "If you smile with your mouth first, you're absolutely going to mess up."

And be sure to make eye contact, which Sanders says is "crucial to convince someone that you like their present."

But keep in mind that there are degrees of appropriate eye contact if you want to look natural. "If the eye contact is too little or too much, it'll feel like it's not sincere," Brown says. You want to be sure to avoid a stare—which can feel "predatory or romantic," he explains. Instead, make "a kind of little zig-zagging motion that people have when they look around a face."


As you unwrap your unwanted gift and have a moment of unpleasant surprise, you may be tempted to reach for the simplest phrase, such as "awesome," which Brown calls "a one-word cliché" that tries to convey a happiness you don't really feel. Brown says this is a no-no, too: "If you use a cliché, your body language will parallel that."

Instead, eliminate canned words and phrases from your repertoire, he urges, "because then you'll think more about what you're going to say."

Aunt Suzie will also notice if your voice is strained or you have to clear your throat before choking out a "thanks." But how do you convincingly soften your tone of voice so that your words sound as authentic as they can?

Back to acting. Sanders suggests mining your own personal happy experiences for honest emotional content; you may be seeing an ugly sweater you'll never wear but thinking of those prized theater tickets you received another year.

Brown, meanwhile, recommends you think of your favorite comedians; they're good at improvisation, and are often laughing or smiling. "When you do that, you're getting yourself in a better emotional state," Brown says. "Or you can think about a funny time in your own personal life."

A mental rehearsal before you get a gift is a good idea too. Brown says you can imagine a gift that this person could realistically have gotten you and draw on the joy of that imagined gift instead.


If you aren't completely overwhelmed yet, keep in mind you must try to get these small communications by your eyes, mouth, hands, language, and tone in alignment with one another. Brown calls this "paralanguage."

"If they're not congruent, if they don't all line up, then you're not going to come across as sincere," Brown says.

If all of this advice has you contorting yourself into a state of confusion, Brown says that if you remember nothing else, just smile with your eyes. You might just fake it until you make it.


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