Leprechauns, the mischievous creatures from Irish folklore, are undeniably entrenched in American pop culture—or at least their homogenized stereotypes are. There is Lucky, the breakfast cereal mascot for Lucky Charms, who is obsessed with hording sweet confections shaped like pink hearts, purple moons, blue diamonds, and green clovers (“they’re magically delicious!”). There’s the murderous midget from the Leprechaun movies (who could forget the classic Leprechaun in the Hood?). And there are the mascots for the Boston Celtics and the University of Notre Dame, respectively.
Every year during the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Syracuse, where I live, I see dozens of cheery, clearly inebriated men dressed as shillelagh-wielding leprechauns. (Lots of green suspenders, green hats, and green beer.) Incarnations of these mythical fae creatures that guard their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow are seemingly everywhere—except the place where you would expect them most: in contemporary fantasy.
Paranormal fantasy, in particular, has embraced any and all mythical creatures: Nicole Peeler’s Jane True saga features Selkies and barghests, Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson novels involve a Native American coyote shapeshifter, and Kim Harrison’s Hollows sequence features witches, vampires, pixies, elves, and gargoyles.
So where are all the leprechauns?
I’ve been reviewing genre fiction for almost 20 years, and a word search of “leprechaun” in my database of more than 6,000 reviews and blogs only brought up a few references, mostly minor.
A leprechaun was integral to R.A. Salvatore’s novel The Woods Out Back, leprechauns were featured in Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, stories about leprechauns were included in an anthology of Irish fantasy (Emerald Magic, edited by Andrew M. Greeley), Harrison briefly mentions leprechauns in her Hollows universe, and—shockingly—a leprechaun was the focal character in a short story (“Leprechaun Love”) in an erotic anthology entitled Hot Stories for Cold Nights!
The story, by the way, was brilliant. A married couple driving home sees a rainbow and decides to follow it to its end, where they hope to find a leprechaun with a pot of gold. Surprisingly, they do find a short man dressed in green pants, a white shirt with a kelly green vest, and a green top hat. Hoping for some kind of monetary windfall, they chase him down but find that he is penniless. He tells the couple that he does, however, have priceless wisdom—arcane secrets to great sex! So, with the leprechaun as a guide—and a voyeur!—the couple follow the leprechaun’s instructions and have the best sex that they’ve ever had right there. The story ends with the little man dressed in green arriving at his home in suburbia, throwing his green top hat on the kitchen counter, and passionately kissing his wife. To which she says, “Damn, Bernie… you’ve been doing the leprechaun thing again, haven’t you?”
So why aren’t fantasy writers revisiting and reimagining the leprechaun mythos like they have been doing with vampires, werewolves, dwarves, and fairies?
I think the answer is pretty obvious. First and foremost, leprechauns have largely become cardboard caricatures. The potential for using them as main characters in stories has been irrevocably tainted by their over-the-top treatment in pop culture. Secondly, there is no real mainstream hook—they aren’t supernaturally sexy like vampires, they lack the animal magnetism of lycanthropes, they’re not exotic like selkies or kelpies, they lack the etherealness of angels and the horror-inducing qualities of demons…
I actually kind of feel sorry for what popular culture has done to the leprechaun myth. Poor, misunderstood leprechauns.
And now I’m craving a bowl of Lucky Charms.