April 10th, 2011

Fairies - or Faeries?

We want to believe really we do - just like Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to believe in the Cottingley Fairies.
The Cottingley fairies appeared in a series of photos taken by Elise & Frances, two ingenious girls, who kept this secret from 1917 to the 1980's. Finally admitting they weren't real fairies or even projections from their minds but cardboard cut outs! Even after it proved to be a hoax, many people still remember thought of that incident with fascination. Imagine as a 6 and 10 year old child to have fooled even Sir Arthur what a secret to carry! And even more amazing the public's longing to believe.

When I was little my bedroom walls were covered with Arthur Rackham fairy posters, I used to dream of the fairies in Regents Park, waiting for Peter Pan. I read Apple Blossom fairies, but I still believed in the dwarf who lived under the bed and would grab my ankles if he had a chance! But mostly fairies were sweet and good and whimsical and a touch girlie.

An Arthur Rackham fairy painting

As I delved into British folk tales, I realized fairies could be mean, evil, jealous, and even while they might seem to bestow luck and good fortune upon you they always wanted something in return. Faeries in history go way back before Shakespeare's Midnight Summer Dream and The Tempest, with the joyful Puck and wily Caliban, to an oral tradition of children's dark morality tales - more reasons to fear the dark.

Then came an avalanche of Disney-fied fairies.

There is obviously a HUGE market for these kind of fairies. And really, bring it on whatever gets kids hooked on books, right? There are shelves and shelves of best selling series featuring little winged creatures, Pet Fairies, The Jewel Fairies, Rainbow Magic and The Fairy House series, all dressed in pink or purple sparkles with pastel  wrapping, leaving me feeling slightly nauseous and longing for the 'real' thing.

But what is the real thing? Does it include brownies and pixies and sprites and elves or are they all different entities? Are we talking magic folk or strictly small persons with wings? For me the real thing is something more elusive, harder to pin down (ouch), a little more forceful, spiteful, cheeky, unpredictable, tricky even.

Small Persons With Wings, by Ellen Booraem

And guess what? They're back - a few months ago Publishers Weekly reported on the re-emergence of fairies. (I know there should have been a link here but like a fairy it flitted away!) They've stealthily sneaking into Middle Grade and Young Adult - slowly at first with books like The Spiderwicks series by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, followed by The Care and Feeding of Sprites, but now they've come pouring out of the cracks in the walls, as seen in Chime by Fanny Billingsley - with the Brownie following Briony everywhere, and Small Person's with Wings, by our own Ellen Booraem, where fairies (sorry, SPWW) create all kinds of havoc and Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, described by the author as  Die Hard with fairies, and not forgetting the enchanting but creepy tale of The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher, by David Ellwand.

The Fool and the Vanisher, set in the English Southdowns.

Now, I know Holly Black, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett amongst others have paved the way, but it seems the momentum is picking up and fairies are getting meaner and spikier - from You're a Bad Man Mr. Gum's personal angry fairy www.mrgum.co.uk/ask.htm that hits him on the head constantly with a frying pan, to the fairies in Torchwood. I know it's a cheat, as really it's TV  -  but it's part of the current fairy zeitgeist!



And now we have How to Ditch Your Fairy, by Justine Larbalestier - obviously fairies are a pain in this book and Fairy Tale, by Cyn Balog - now to me this is the OUT and PROUD icing on the cake, a YA high school romance set in fairyland! I can almost hear them calling in their creepy little voices ---- "We're here!"

So, come on share, who's your favorite fairy and from whence do they roam?

And of course the all important question - fairy or faerie?