The first of April is when all the pranksters come out to play: repressed all year, forced to hide their talents, springtime becomes their valedictorian moment as the traps are baited and set, and the rest of us shriek and cower while the practical jokers take their bows. Some of the most memorable amongst them are figures from literature – here are a few fictional pranksters that shocked, scared and startled us:
Roald Dahl’s The Twits
If ever there were a horrible pair of vicious ingrates, The Twits are that pair: a mean old married couple who try to prank each other to distraction, they make each other drink worms, convince each other they’re shrinking, and try to glue birds to a tree to make them into a pie. Finally, their mistreated monkey pets, the Muggle-Wumps, out-prank their evil masters by gluing the Twits’ furniture to the ceiling. It’s hard to pick a favourite Roald Dahl book, but this has to be a contender…
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
One of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night is about a couple of twins, Viola and Sebastian, who get separated during a shipwreck. Viola pretends to be a boy and the wrong person, a woman called Olivia, falls in love with her. Very well-written shenanigans ensue, as you might predict. In the meantime, we get some of Shakespeare’s funniest scenes, as a whole cluster of jokers headed up by Olivia’s Uncle Toby convince her steward, Malvolio, that his mistress is in love with him. Malvolio acts increasingly bizarrely – following their faked instructions – until finally they announce that he’s insane and they lock him up. Okay, it sounds grim, but it’s hilarious. Really!
Stephen King, Carrie
This one, on the other hand, really is grim. We all know about the telekinetic powers of the novel’s main character, and the horrible revenge she enacts upon the high-school bullies that have been tormenting her, but the actual bullying itself constitutes one of the more horrible practical jokes we’ve ever encountered. Two of Carrie’s classmates, Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan, rig a trap so that when Carrie and Tommy, her date, are crowned Prom King and Queen, two buckets of fresh pigs’ blood are slopped all over them. Well, wouldn’t that tip you over the edge?
Reining it back in for some folklore now, Brer Rabbit is a traditional trickster character, the roots of which been traced back to various African storytelling roots and the tales of Anansi the spider (another notorious trickster), and which has, at least with regard to its southern US incarnation, been associated with the representation of slaves who’ve rebelled against their white owners. The versions you’re most likely to hear of Brer’s adventures will come via Joel handler Harris’s series of books from the 1870s, and later Enid Blyton’s retellings. A cunning bunny, Brer Rabbit is always outwitting Brers Bear, Fox and Wolf.
The Joker (DC Comics)
A comic book supervillain and trickster nonpareil, the Joker’s been around since the very first issue of DC’s Batman back in 1940. Batman’s arch-nemesis, he’s super smart and very twisted, and his schemes are facilitated by his booby-trapped kit of accessories – playing cards tipped with razor-blades, exploding cigars and poisonous laughing gas. He’s constantly voted one of the best villains out there, and we’re not surprised though we’d probably stop laughing pretty quickly if he popped up grinning anywhere near us…
So, who are your favourite literary practical jokers?
Image credit: Queen Areej