Fairy Stories

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.
~J.M. Barrie

One Christmas when I was 8, our class teacher asked us to write down our three wishes. Little did we know that it was a competition and our answers were very important! Somehow I won and my answers still make me cringe a little bit:

  1. I wish I could meet a fairy.
  2. I wish I could own a bookshop.
  3. I wish I could make everyone in the world gentle and kind.

Now, the first two are fairly typical wishes for a young girl, but I have no idea why I wrote the third wish! I assume that’s why I won, but it was very unlike me… Anyway, these wishes were in my head for some reason this week and I started to think about some of the fairies that made my younger self so keen to meet one!

The Rebellious Fairy

The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks remains one of my favourite childhood books. My godmother bought it for me when I was about 6 and I still love it.

Jan and her husband have been trying for a baby for a long time, yet they can’t conceive. One day Jan meets Tiki, a fairy in the garden. Tiki doesn’t conform to how fairies should be; she prefers wearing jeans to dresses, is a bit overweight because she loves sweet things and doesn’t like the Fairy Queen. The two form an unlikely (and forbidden) friendship and Tiki ‘arranges it’ so Jan can have a baby.

The fairy said something about blue hair. I told her of course I hadn’t said blue hair, or even blue eyes; I want the baby to have hazel eyes, like yours. But what I keep thinking is, what if she’d got it wrong, and the baby had blue hair, or even browny-green?

The Fairy Rebel ~ Lynne Reid Banks

When Bindi is born, she does in fact have a tuft of magical blue hairs, but these are hidden by her brown hair. Each year on her birthday Bindi receives an incredible magic gift from Tiki… until she turns 8 and the Fairy Queen steps in to punish them all.

If I’m honest, the amount of chocolate and sweet things and how they’re described may have enhanced my love for this book! However, it’s a fairy story with a difference; all fairies must love their queen, they don’t cry and they don’t speak to humans. Tiki isn’t prissy and wearing dresses – she’s a tomboy, just like I was, but she can still fly and do magic! This was clearly my idea of perfection in a fairy story.

The Sand Fairy

It’s common knowledge that wishes can be dangerous, so having ones that only last until sunset seems like a sensible idea. However, as we all know, this can also cause problems… like when you wish for wings and then fall asleep on a roof!

For really there is nothing like wings for getting you into trouble. But, on the other hand, if you are in trouble, there is nothing like wings for getting you out of it.

Five Children and It ~ E. Nesbit

Again, I think it was the wings that made me fall in love with this book, but I was also drawn to the Psammead; again, he wasn’t your typical fairy, but a grumpy, stubborn creature that grants wishes as they are expressed, not as they are meant. It also shows the importance of articulating what it is you want and of being careful what you wish for!

The Tolkien Faerie

One Christmas I received an audiobook of Tolkien Stories. One was an excerpt from Lord of the Rings (Tom Bombadil), but the others were new to me. My favourite was Smith of Wootton Major. In this, a young boy accidentally swallows a magical star in his slice of pudding and, years later, enters the realm of Faery, where he has some adventures. I think this story stuck with me because he was just a normal child, thrust into a land of magic, protected by the star on his brow.

In that dale the light was like a red sunset, but the light came up from the lake – and there he beheld strange shapes of flame bending and branching and wavering like great weeds in a sea dingle, and fiery creatures went to and fro among them.

Smith of Wootton Major ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

I never really thought of it as a Christmas story, but it was a surreal, dark tale of fairies quite unlike any others. Originally called The Great Cake, it’s very different to Tolkien’s other stories (although food remains as important to Wootton Major as it does to Hobbiton). There are many non-believers in the story, but because the realm is unlike our traditional ideas of fairies, it is all the more believable, because it is not only beautiful and magical, but twisted and terrifying.

The Jealous Fairy

Again, there’s a flying theme here… I guess all I ever wanted as a child was to be able to fly; I was forever jumping off things and hoping I’d take flight! Peter Pan was a story full of adventure, with pirates, mermaids and fairies – something for everyone really. Happy thoughts are powerful things (remember they can also fight off Dementors), but add in a sprinkling of pixie dust and amazing things will happen.

When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.

Peter Pan ~ J.M. Barrie

Tinkerbell is an interesting character. She’s loyal, but jealous; she saves Pan’s life, but tries to kill Wendy. This made me see fairies differently, in that they aren’t all perfect, and neither are humans. Despite struggling with our flaws, we can make up for them with good deeds. As a child being naughty is often accidental, but we always try to say sorry in our own way. I’m not sure I learned this from Tink, but as Barrie says “she was all bad just now… sometimes she was all good” and that was definitely me as a child (and I had a little curl right in the middle of my forehead)!

The Real Fairy

The story of the Cottingley Fairies is one that has fascinated me for years. My grandma had a book on fairies and this story was included, along with the photographs the girls had taken to stop people teasing Frances. However, the photos quickly became public, with people accepting them as proof that fairies existed. To me, this was an incredible achievement for two young girls – without any intention, they had managed to fool some extremely clever people, including Arthur Conan Doyle.

I’m sure that World War I made people more prone to wanting the fairies to be real; with so much suffering and uncertainty, being able to believe in magic would have been a comfort to many people. The film Fairytale shows how much the fairies mean to a lot of people and how could two young girls admit that they had staged the photos? Even in the 1980s when Elsie and Frances admitted they were fake, they still swore they had seen fairies… we may never know, but it’s a nice thing to believe in.

Did you love fairies when you were small? Perhaps you still love curling up with a good fairy story and are searching for your happy ending?

If you wish to buy any of these books about fairies, please support local bookshops: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/Paradise_Library

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