We all know that “Based on a true story” is simply a suggestion in Hollywood, otherwise, we’d believe Jack and Rose rode the Titanic, Maximus Decimus Meridius defeated Commodus in the coliseum, and Charles Xavier and his mutants stopped the Cuban Missile Crisis from erupting into war.
Amid all the green beer drinking and corn beef noshing, a St. Patrick’s Day tradition for me is watching the 1993 classic Leprechaun starring Warwick Davis. Prior to this film, leprechauns had almost solely been represented in popular culture by jolly yet mischievous creatures helping Darby O’Gill or protecting his Lucky Charms. Now they had a murderously irritated representative.
However, as enjoyable as the cheesy horror classic of Leprechaun is, the movie always gets me thinking: How accurate is Warwick Davis’ leprechaun?
The Answer: Only a wee bit.
The one thing that Leprechaun does get right that many other films and television shows get wrong is the acerbic nature of leprechauns. They may not be monstrous-looking creatures with a Jack Nicholson Joker smile and teeth that look like a meth head has been bingeing on black licorice. However, leprechauns are not social or friendly creatures, and they will play tricks on humans, whom they find stupid and inferior. They certainly aren’t merry and whimsical like the cereal boxes tell us.
They’re not going to stab you to death, bite throughout your hand, or rip your eyeball out as we see in Leprechaun, but they don’t like any sort of companionship. In fact, leprechauns (which are always male for some reason) are solitary creatures often described as grumpy. They’re about two feet tall, which is about half the size of Warwick Davis. Leprechauns love to drink whiskey and stout, and they’re often seen smoking a pipe. They may be Irish faeries, but they are not exactly the stuff of fairy tales for children.
Even though the Leprechaun states that he is 600 years old, he appears quite young. Traditional images of leprechauns feature older men with beards and glasses. They are said to have inhabited Ireland since before the Celts arrived in the 9th century, more than 1000 years ago.
Cobblers by trade but misers by reputation, leprechauns supposedly make shoes for the aos sí in Ireland. They often are seen wearing green clothes (though earlier folklore suggests they wore red), but unlike the Leprechaun in the film, traditionally they are seen wearing a work apron. The Leprechaun from the film does say he’s a shoemaker, and he is easily distracted by polishing shoes, and he is wearing red pants, so there’s a certain degree of accuracy stuck in there. So…
What’s with all the rhyming?
Contrary to what is shown in Leprechaun 5: In the Hood, leprechauns are not prone to dropping rhymes in every sentence, and they certainly aren’t up-and-coming rappers. This isn’t a Renaissance festival, people.
Because traditional leprechauns are solitary wee folk, they don’t really talk much anyway, and it most certainly isn’t in iambic pentameter. Here is one of the ways that the leprechaun myths have been twisted to fit a more sanitized version of the creatures.
In fact, if you happen to capture a leprechaun, you’re more likely to get a string of profanity instead of an adorable rhyme. While Davis’ Leprechaun isn’t afraid to offend someone with his language, the more accurate sounding leprechaun might be Gerard Butler’s version from the much-maligned film Movie 43.
Even then, you might not even understand what they’re saying. Leprechauns speak Irish, which is the traditional language of the island. The English language only became dominant after the British took charge of the country and mandated only-English education in the 1800s. Between that and the great famine, which wiped out many traditional Irish speakers in the poorer and more rural communities, the language was nearly wiped out in some areas. However, leprechauns don’t care about British politics, and they were about as likely to change their language as they were to deliver their pots of gold to Buckingham Palace.
Yeah, what about the leprechaun’s gold, and the four-leaf clover?
The gold is relatively accurate to the fables of the leprechauns. However, they don’t hide their gold in some dungeon as Davis’ Leprechaun does, and they surely don’t wear it as bling as he does in the aforementioned Leprechaun 5: In the Hood. Generally, they hide their gold throughout the countryside, supposedly in clover patches.
Of course, that makes the key plot point of Leprechaun, which involves trapping him with a four-leaf clover, utter hogwash. Clover has no debilitating effects on leprechauns. After all, if it did, why would they go around hiding their gold in their own version of kryptonite?
So, the gold is real, and the rainbow is as well, at least according to legend. In fact, this point makes an interesting crossover. The Vikings first invaded Ireland late in the 8th century, and because of this, we see plenty of crossover in mythology and legend. Are the rainbows leading to leprechaun pots of gold actually part of the Bifröst, which connects the human realm of Midgard to the gods’ world of Asgard?
Now that the Leprechaun films have milked all the venues of lame sequels, is it time for a Marvel crossover? Would the mischievous Loki want to join powers with Warwick Davis’ creepy, murderous Leprechaun? I hear the sound of the Thor 3 script brewing. Someone call Kevin Feige!