The lutin, a small, mischievous, shape-shifting being, is the French answer to the British Puck, a trickster who loves to play pranks on unsuspecting humans. His pranks almost never lead to injury, just embarrassment on the part of the human.
Tales of the lutin can be found both in France and in French Canada, and can liven up a storyteller’s repertoire. However, a storyteller striving for authenticity should note that in modern French, the word lutin is sometimes misapplied to any fairy being.
Since the lutin is a shape-shifter, the tales say that a shepherd or farmer never knew when he might appear; the lutin could change himself into a man, woman, or child, a stick, a goat, or a plowshare. Indeed, the only shape he could not take was that of a needle. He could transform himself into a needle, but try as he might, he never was able to imitate the hole, so any woman would have found him out the moment she began to sew.
The lutin, the tales say, preferred to work his pranks at night, when no one was awake to get in his way. He might decide to unfasten the cows, wait until the humans got the cows back in their stalls, and then release them again. Or he might decide to spend the night plaiting up the mane and tail of every horse, or even braiding two tails together for the humans to unfasten. The lutin also liked to scare people out walking at night.
According to one story, a man was passing along the bank of a stream in the evening,when he noticed a sheep bleating loudly. Thinking it must have strayed from the ﬂock, and that he had better take it home with him until he could discover its owner, he lifted the animal onto his back and staggered on his way.
Then a voice suddenly asked, “Where are you?”
From the sheep came the answer, “On the back of a donkey!”
The man dropped the sheep and ran. As he ran, he heard a laugh from behind him and knew he had been tricked by a lutin.
Another story tells of the lutin going after a young woman who was looking for colored thread to sew her new gown (a second version says it was a wedding dress). She was delighted to ﬁnd, lying on the side of the road, a large ball of colored thread. It matched the cloth perfectly, and she hastily sewed the gown together with it.
The young woman decided to wear the gown to church (the second version says it was on her wedding day). But as soon as she took the ﬁrst step into the church, her ﬁne dress fell to pieces. The ﬁne colored thread had completely vanished—it had been a lutin’s trick.