Bad Fairy Case File #310: The Imp

OFFENSES: Tricks, pranks, foolishness

DESCRIPTION: Small, ugly, sometimes be-winged and horned 


PROVENANCE: German folklore

An imp is a small and feeble creature found in German folklore, whose temperament falls somewhere between fairy and demon. They are often portrayed as dark, ugly creatures, sometimes with horns and wings and sometimes resembling ugly old men.

They are generally considered harmless and unimportant, and this fact is infuriating to imps, and is sometimes a driving force behind an imp’s tricks and pranks, desperate to prove himself important.

Imps in many stories are generally benevolent, but their tricks can sometimes get them into trouble, or may cause unexpected harm on those they are pranking. They are described as wild and mischievous, but what is often overlooked by storytellers is the imp’s desire to be loved by humans. Their endless pranks and tricks, merely a means to get the attention of people, usually backfire, angering the humans or scaring them away.

Because the term ‘imp’ is is somewhat general, and sometimes synonymous with ‘fairy’ or ‘demon,’ imps appear in different tales with strikingly different behaviors and abilities.

In some tales, imps are assistants to witches, warlocks, and wizards. In other tales, they have the power to grant wishes, like a genie. In some they are trapped inside of objects such as swords or crystals, and require special human maneuvering to free them.

Images of imps can be found in art and architecture around the world, usually apparent only to the most observant eyes. The stone image at right is carved into the pillars and ceiling of the Medieval Cathedral of Lincoln England, where it was said to be turned to stone by an angel after terrorizing the church.