Fairies do exist, but I never discovered them until my grandchildren came to stay. It is only then that I realised the power of a child’s mind. Something I was too busy to come to grips with during my own parenthood. Staying alive, putting food on the table and paying bills was the priority of the day.
I suppose the key to all this is believability. A child wants to believe. An adult is too occupied with grown up things. That’s why most adults cannot see fairies. Just ask Tinkerbell.
Of course, fairies were not always the sweet ethereal beings we think of today. They changed over the years—Darwinism at its best.
The name originated from the Latin fata, meaning fate and migrating into the French faerie, meaning enchantment. With such a pedigree it is no wonder the term was used by the 12th century English Scholar Gervase of Tilbury, in his compendium of marvels of the natural world. Such experiences as encounters with little folk needed an explanation. In the absence of anything better, the most obvious explanation became fact. Little people or fairies existed. But where did they come from, and where do they live?
In early times fairies were considered demoted angels who failed to get into heaven when god locked the gates. Those in hell became demons, and those trapped in between heaven and hell became fairies—guardians of lost souls. Or, in the case of Disney, guardians of lost boys.
Late medieval literature, such as Sir Launfal, a 14th century Middle English romantic poem written by Thomas Chestre, spoke of a powerful fairy lady who entrapped Sir Launfala, a steward in the court of King Arthur and a friend of Merlin. Even Chaucer, in the same period, wrote of “this land fulfilled of faerie” in his Wife of Bath’s Tale. Full of tricks and continuously enticing people into difficult situations, the fairies made their presence known so that the big people could not ignore them. A theme that Chaucer continued in his “Merchants Tale” who referred to Pluto, King of the Faerie and his Queen, Prosperina, who danced and sang under the Laurel in a January garden. The fairies clearly lived amongst us but were capable of hiding in the land of Fey.
By the time of the 16th and 17th century, fairies became even more visible. William Shakespeare in ‘A Midsummer Night Dream’ started to explain the existence of a place called Fairyland. Its King was Oberon, who was at odds with his Queen Titania, much to the amusement of the mischievous Puck. A variation of the word Pouke, an old-world name for the Devil, sometimes referred to as Puki, Piskey and eventually Pixie. Also known as Robin Goodfellow, Puch remains, even today, as the antagonist of all good fairies. I say good fairies because there are reports that some fairies were more than just a little mischievous.
In the 18th 19th century, everyone knew about fairies. They were common knowledge and the focus of many stories both in England and abroad. In 1785, the French author Charles Garnier published one of the first collections of fairytales, Cabinet des Fees. Just under thirty years later, in Germany, the brothers Grimm, true believers in fairies, published the first volume of their book containing 86 fairy tales. Three years later, they published a further 70. Most of them portraying the darker side of fairy life. The race to capture the true spirit of the fairy was on.
As the 20th century dawned, the movement to find more scientific evidence of fairies took a significant advancement with the camera. At last, the means to obtain empirical proof. In 1917 two young girls took a grainy picture in Cottingley Beck, proving the existence of fairies. It was scientifically certified as genuine and endorsed by another true believer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Naturally, the disbelievers were able to provide all the reasons as to why it was a hoax. Even if the girls had been encouraged to carry out such a thing, it was only because they believed they had seen fairies. After all, it is only unbelievers who cannot see them.
The invention of the camera and then the cinema projector took fairies into a new realm. Those who truly believed were able to portray to the masses all of the collective imagery that represented the world of fairies, both good and bad. We were all brought up with the story of Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, the fairy who introduced us to pixie dust. Tinkerbell was not the stereotype fairy. She was sassy, feisty and hot-tempered. She was also insanely jealous of Peter and carried out acts of almost murderous intent against those she thought were trying to steal him away. On the other side of the scale was the Fairy Godmother who gives a young girl a pair of red sparkly shoes to help her on her journey of discovery. The Fairy Godmother appears again as the kindly old lady who turns a pumpkin into a crystal coach, enabling a lowly kitchen maid to go to the ball.
However, the epitome of all fairies has to be The Blue Fairy who first appears in a dark story where a wooden toy is turned into a living boy. Later, retold by Disney, the fairy’s image exudes kindness and a motherly nature that makes you feel warm and content. Her magic wand dispels nothing but good. The image is so strong that the Blue Fairy becomes number one in the fairy league. So much so that she appears again in another story about a robotic boy programmed with A.I., who also seeks to become a real child.
When thinking of fairies, the image of the blue fairy is the one most people are now left with, and it is the same fairy that made me believe.
Initiated by one of my granddaughter, who insisted that fairies existed under the shed in nanny and dampa’s garden, it prompted a series of night time hunts. Needless to say they proved unsuccessful, until a small set of fairy lights were secretly set up with a remote switch. As if by magic a final hunt revealed the presence of fairies. Bedtime became magical and far from promoting sleep the obligatory story, which now featured the Blue Fairy, launched a series adventures that, over time, became the cornerstone of a series of stories for all three grandchildren. They were also accompanied by regular night time sighting in the garden and the ultimate accolade, the publishing of a book called The Blue Fairy and the Three Princesses.
Of course time marches forward, children grow older and the fairy lights are binned. Belief begins to wane. There is one more visit by the grandchildren which prompted a nostalgic evening viewing of the garden. Reminiscing over time gone by we all look at the garden shed. The light is fading as night approached. I casually ask, “do you still believe in fairies?” There was no hesitation in their unanimous reply “Of course we do, dampa, don’t you?”
A pale pinpoint of blue light rises from under the shed, floats high in the night, and then disappears.
We all see it!