As you read these words, eye blackened from a trick kaleidoscope, you might be tempted to think, “Boy, do I hate April Fools’ Day.” For victims of today’s pranks and merriment, the sentiment is understandable, but this is no time to be a wet whoopee cushion. Revel in some schadenfreude instead, with this list of fiction’s best pranksters, tricksters, and fiends. Because if they try to get you, you can always turn the page.
Tom Hiddleston sure makes for a naughty rascal. In Norse mythology, Loki’s the O.G. trickster god. Then Marvel turned him into a supervillain. A shapeshifter and scamp, Loki manages to irk the gods so much (what with helping to kill them and all) that he ends up bound by his son’s entrails in the underworld with a snake dripping venom into his eyes from above, which you can witness in full pictorial detail in the Sandman series—if you’re feeling really rotten today.
Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare)
Robin Goodfellow: by day, jester, by night, “merry wanderer.” And the impertinent imp drives the action of Shakespeare’s trippy comedy, intentionally and unintentionally. It would be one thing to foul up the love story by accident, becoming the worst thing to happen to young Shakespearean lovers since that incompetent friar; it’s quite another to outfit poor Nick Bottom with a donkey’s head. That’s cold, bro.
The African trickster god turns into a spider, because there just aren’t enough nightmares. But he deserves a special place in every literary heart because he used his trickery and wits to become god of the world’s stories, by outsmarting a python, a leopard, some hornets, and a dwarf. Coincidentally, that’s probably a set-up to one of Anansi’s jokes. For proof of his biting sense of humor, ask his son Charlie Nancy, on whom Anansi bestowed the moniker “Fat Charlie” in Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys.
Tom Sawyer (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain)
Becky Thatcher could do a lot worse. Tom Sawyer is a born huckster, and he’s great at it. If he could pull off the old privilege-of-whitewashing-the-fence routine at such a young age, just imagine how many lemons he could hawk at a dealership some day (assuming cars existed in this alt-universe…). Or, in the words of long-suffering Aunt Polly, “Who knows, he may grow up to be President someday, unless they hang him first!”
Matilda (Matilda, by Roald Dahl)
It’s not the size of the prank that matters; it’s the conviction. Young Matilda’s tricks are of the righteous variety, and thus, supergluing her father’s hat to his head is a noble enterprise. Of course, possessing telekinesis makes it a lot easier to pull things over on both her awful parents and her psychotic, murderous headmistress Miss Trunchbull. If only we were all so endowed.
Cheshire Cat (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll)
Has a smile ever been as distinctive as the one plastered on this feline fiend? With the dialogue of a philosophy professor and a tendency to disappear at will, this pussycat is a conundrum. He growls when he’s pleased, wag his tails when he’s mad, and confounds a queen who wants nothing more than to behead something. What a bad kitty.
Fred and George Weasley (Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling)
The heirs to the Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot & Prongs guide to insulting Severus Snape and his abnormally large nose, Fred and George kept a castle already jumpy with excitement on its toes. Not only did they scare the pants off one Dolores Umbridge with a fireworks spectacular, they turned it into a career with Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.
The Joker and Harley Quinn
A criminal psychopath with a soft spot for sadism and mischief beguiles his soon-to-be girlfriend-jester at Arkham asylum, because Stockholm Syndrome is a potent aphrodisiac. Just as the Grinch presumably wanted to do to the Whos when his heart grew three sizes, the Joker responds to his genuine feelings for Harley by trying to kill her in creative ways, like sending her off in a rocket. That Mr. J is such a cut-up. Regardless, the pair is a cackling antidote to Batman McBroodypants.
Who’s your favorite fictional trickster?