Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pixie Dust and Changelings

I mentioned in my last post how I have been working on my honors thesis on the evolution of fairies a lot this past year. Well, I have been doing a lot of research for it (reading books on fairies is such hard work, guys), and one of the many interesting things I've found about fairies in literature today is that we are actually seeing a return to the darker fairies of oral folk lore.

After Tinkerbell, I find this really exciting. The original fairies were not all pixie dust and happy thoughts; most of them were not even tiny. Some did not have wings. Some were extremely beautiful, and some were horrifyingly grotesque. The differences are not just in physical appearance, however. These fairies were a lot like sociopaths. They stole unborn children from their mothers' wombs. They took infants from their cribs in the night and replaced them with their own sickly offspring. An unsuspecting traveler wandering off the path at night could be whisked away to fairy land at a moment's notice.

Why?

Because they could. Because it amused them. Because that mortal could be used to pay the seven year tithe to the devil, if you have read The Ballad of Tam Lin and subscribe to that specific theory. Honestly, there were just too many humans stolen away to be explained by a tithe that only happens every seven years. Especially since Tam Lin himself (who was stolen at age 9 and rescued probably around the time he was 18) would likely have seen a tithe take place before being chosen as a sacrifice.

I enjoy J.M. Barrie's version of Tinkerbell. I am even moderately amused with Disney's version. But no tiny sprite will ever hold as much fascination for me as the changelings of the old folk tales or the cruel fairy queen of Tam Lin. I am really interested in the return in this type of fairy in literature. This is its first really popular resurgence in centuries. Why now? What about our culture has made these creatures relevant again?

I think we are becoming more interested in the why of these creatures. We want to figure out the answers to the great mysteries people were too afraid to investigate in the 1500s. I think we are fascinated with the darkness of the human psyche, and these fairies appear to be a harmless way of exploring things like sociopaths without jumping on the serial killer/crime bandwagon.

If you are curious about some of these contemporary books with dark fairies, check out Lament: The Fairie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater or The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff.*

*These are both young adult titles.

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