Bad Fairy Case File #351: The Boggart

Offenses: Common Pranks, Messiness

Description: Small, Mischievous, Unattractive

Alias: Bogart, Boggles, Bogle

Provenance: English Folklore

A small, pesky household fairy originally found in English folklore, the Boggart was likely invented to explain unexplainable misfortune within the home. According to myth, a family “hosting” a Boggart might notice broken dishes, strange creaking, or spoiled food. Boggarts are notoriously hard to get rid of; in many tales, Boggarts follow a family from place to place as they try to outsmart the creature. It is also said to be unlucky to name a household Boggart, because it will then never compromise its position, and become even more ill-tempered.

Boggarts like to hide in dark, enclosed places, such as closets and cabinets or under beds. Often described as a shape-shifter, the Boggart may be one of the origins of what evolved into the Bogeyman, which was less of a mythological creature and more of a nightmarish and non-specific embodiment of terror.

An interesting difference between the Boggart and the Bogeyman is that while the Boggart was blamed for household mishaps, warnings of the Bogeyman were often spoken by adults in attempts to keep children from misbehaving. It’s not so far of a stretch to turn the invisible, wretched household spirit always blamed for the souring of milk or missing keys into the creature under the bed employed in storytelling with the task of frightening children into staying put.

Nevertheless, this bogeyman evolution of the boggart was what J.K. Rowling seemed to be working with. In her Harry Potter series, Professor Lupin says of boggarts:

So the boggart sitting in the darkness within has not yet assumed a form. He does not yet know what will frighten the person on the other side of the door. Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears.

 

The history and characteristics of a Boggart may be altered by the creative whims of an author, but it is consistently known for being foul of odor and a tenacious mess maker.

More about Boggarts:

  • The surface of Puck, one of Uranus’ moons, is heavily cratered. Since all the features on Puck are named for mischievous magical creatures, it’s only fitting that once such crater is named “Bogle”.
  • Some role-playing games feature boggarts. In Magic: The Gathering trading card game, boggarts are the most common variety of goblin. In Changeling: The Dreaming, among its characters are “Boggans”, a playable race of helpful, busy-body house fairies, and also another race, Thallian who resemble Boggans, but pretend to be standard Boggarts.
  • Pictured at right, two deviantART Spiderwick-inspired Boggarts. Follow these links for specific artist information for the sculpture (above), or the sketch (below).