A brownie is a small, hardworking elf-like creature that lives in houses and barns. He is said to come out at night, and finish the housework that has been left undone.
In return, a brownie will accept gifts of food - cream, bread or milk may be left for him, but other gifts offend him. If clothes are left out for him, he will put them on and vanish, never to return. This is what happens in the Grimm story The Elves and the Shoemaker.
A brownie is rarely seen, though he can often be heard cleaning and scrubbing. A mischievous brownie could sometimes disarrange rooms and furniture, and make an untidy clutter.
Brownies occur mainly in the folklore of England and Scotland. The boggarts of Yorkshire and the bogles of Scotland are wicked mischievous brownies, a bit like poltergeists.
Brownie Stories and Poems to read
Written in 1870 by Juliana Horatia Ewing, this is a story about two lazy little boys. Their mother is dead, and their father is looking after them all alone. He gets no help from the boys and has to do the household chores on his own. So one of the little boys goes in search of a brownie to help his father. He soon realises that he and his brother are the only real brownies. The story shows that all children are brownies when they are kind and helpful.
Lord Baden-Powell liked the concept of helpful children being called brownies so much that he adopted the name Brownies for the junior girl guides in 1918. The leader of the pack is called Brown Owl, which is once again taken from the story by Mrs. Ewing, where the Old Owl shows the boy what he and his brother must do.
The Brownies in the Toy Shop
A poem by Palmer Cox, this describes a troop of brownies rambling through the town at night 'to pry at this, to pause at that', till they see a toy store. They are fascinated by the shop, and spend the entire night 'in greatest glee', playing with the toys.
Palmer Cox's brownies first appeared in the 1890s. They became so popular with children that the main characters were reproduced as dolls.