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¥LEGEND OF FAIRIES¥

Fairies of Folklore and Legend
Carey Holmes



Fairies have been part of literature, art, and culture for more than fifteen hundred years. With them have come many stories about their interaction with adults and children. These stories have been compiled by men such as Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, who provided the world with a large compilation of fairy tales, which are still told today. Perrault and the Grimms together compiled over six hundred legends that originated from all around Europe. These myths and legends often included imaginary being called fairies, sprites, and nymphs.

Fairies are frequently described as tiny human beings. Their clothing, which is usually green, gold, or blue, is thought to have been created from natural elements such as leaves and vines which have been sown together to make their dresses and loin cloths. Many of these magical beings had wings and could change forms and disappear when they had to.

There were both male and female fairies, some good and others evil. Evil female fairies were usually associated with female sexuality and abused their magical powers by doing harm (Rose 107-9).

They also had two, distinct living groups. One was called the "trooping group," a group of fairies that lived together in a community with governmental authority and laws, usually a monarchy. Most of these "trooping groups" were found in Irish and occasionally in English folklore. The other fairies are simply known as "solitary fairies," the ones that do not live within the community and are associated with outside families, places, or activities. This group would include fairy godmothers (Rose 107).

All fairies were said to live in the ground, within a forest. If humans wanted to find the fairies, they would begin by searching the woods for a circle of stones. This circle was never to be disturbed, for if it were the fairies would seek revenge on the person who did so. When they were under ground, they "pursued activities and pleasures similar to those of humans but with supernatural speed and quality" (Rose 108). It was also thought that human time did not exist in fairyland, and many of the legends describe children that go with the fairies for festivities and dance and return the on what seems the next day to find that decades had passed.

The myth of the fairy was thought to have originated in Celtic and Norse regions. The fairy gave the Irish a sense of pride that they had never felt before. They had never had a folk story originate from their country and were proud to say that fairies were seen there first. Many countries after Ireland soon began to report the sightings of these magical beings, but in Ireland "fairies were almost a political and cultural necessity" (Silver 34). Many legends and stories originated from them and began to expand into the whole culture of Europe.

The oldest origin of the fairy was directly connected to the earth and the elements, back to the fifteenth-century alchemists and mystics. People in the Middle Ages believed that fairies were sacred guardians of nature and all the natural elements. The works of Paracelsus in the fifteenth century spoke of these beings and described them as "the sylphs of air, the salamanders of fire, the undines or nymphs of water, and the gnomes of the earth" (Silver 35). Paracelsus also said that these creatures could only live in the element into which they were born. To him, these creatures lived and acted just as humans but were without immortal souls. They could move at super-human speeds, had the ability to materialize and dematerialize when needed, and possessed the magical ability to influence the human world (Silver 35-39). The culture of the time held that "elemental fairies shaped our temperaments: ‘the spirits of nature have their dwellings within us as well as outside of us’" (Silver 39).

The most popular belief was that fairies were the fallen angels that chose not to take sides when God banished Lucifer to the bowels of hell. God punished these angels by sending them to live out the rest of their immortal lives as small people with some magical powers that were permanently banned to the earthly plane. Other believed that fairies were the spirits of un-baptized children that died at birth or that they were the souls of the dead that were not good enough to go to heaven or evil enough to go to hell, that they were permanently trapped on the earthly plane until God received them into His kingdom (Silver 37-9).

More religious myths emerged. Some thought fairies were the souls that were awaiting reincarnation. Others believed that they were also the spirits of the pagan gods and goddesses. These gods had lost their power after people stopped worshipping them, and they were diminished to the form and size of fairies (Silver 33-6).

Charles Perrault was the first to begin to collect fairy tales from France, and in 1697 he published his first collection of tales, Stories or Tales from Times Past, with Morals. This first book also included such stories as "Bluebeard" and "Tom Thumb." The brothers Grimm also began to collect stories, and in 1812 published a collection of eighty-six tales in a book entitled Children and Household Tales. Most of these stories were collected from around Germany in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In 1816 and 1818 the Grimm brothers published a complete two-volume set titled Deutsche Sagen, which contained over 585 fairytales (Perrault 4).

Authors from other countries also included fairies in their works. Edmund Spencer wrote The Faerie Queene in 1596 and included the trooping fairies that were seen in Ireland and in England. Shakespeare also included fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the public’s awareness that such figures as Puck, Oberon, and Titania represented actual people. Oberon and Titania were the king and queen fairy, while Puck and other lower fairies were their servants and loyal subjects.

All of these pieces of literature were available for Charlotte Brontë to have read in her early childhood, and doubtless she was aware of these stories as she grew up in the English countryside at Haworth. Although it is not known for sure that Charlotte read fairy tales in her childhood, Silver suggests that her family's loyal servant, Tabby, who was from Ireland, could have also influenced Charlotte. Tabby was often said to have told fairy tales to the Brontë children (Silver 34-6).

There are distinct connections that can be seen, though, either from the fairy tales themselves or other authors' works, which Bronte did read. Many of the elements that are included in Jane Eyre can been seen in the compilation of Charles Perrault’s work, especially in "Tom Thumb" and "Bluebeard" and "The Fairies." It could also be argued that Charlotte might not have read or heard these stories but was introduced to many of the same themes through gothic novels of the time.




Works Cited

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Beth Newman. New York: St. Martin’s, 1996.

Fraser, Rebecca. The Brontes: Charlotte Bronte and Her Family. New York: Crown, 1988.

Perrault, Charles. Perrault’s Classic French Fairy Tales. Austria: Meredith, 1967.

Rose, Carol. Spirits, Fairies, Gnomes and Goblins: An Encyclopedia of the Little People. Denver: ABC-CLIO, 1996.

Silver, Carole. Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.



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Fairies of Folklore and Legend
Carey Holmes



Fairies have been part of literature, art, and culture for more than fifteen hundred years. With them have come many stories about their interaction with adults and children. These stories have been compiled by men such as Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, who provided the world with a large compilation of fairy tales, which are still told today. Perrault and the Grimms together compiled over six hundred legends that originated from all around Europe. These myths and legends often included imaginary being called fairies, sprites, and nymphs.

Fairies are frequently described as tiny human beings. Their clothing, which is usually green, gold, or blue, is thought to have been created from natural elements such as leaves and vines which have been sown together to make their dresses and loin cloths. Many of these magical beings had wings and could change forms and disappear when they had to.

There were both male and female fairies, some good and others evil. Evil female fairies were usually associated with female sexuality and abused their magical powers by doing harm (Rose 107-9).

They also had two, distinct living groups. One was called the "trooping group," a group of fairies that lived together in a community with governmental authority and laws, usually a monarchy. Most of these "trooping groups" were found in Irish and occasionally in English folklore. The other fairies are simply known as "solitary fairies," the ones that do not live within the community and are associated with outside families, places, or activities. This group would include fairy godmothers (Rose 107).

All fairies were said to live in the ground, within a forest. If humans wanted to find the fairies, they would begin by searching the woods for a circle of stones. This circle was never to be disturbed, for if it were the fairies would seek revenge on the person who did so. When they were under ground, they "pursued activities and pleasures similar to those of humans but with supernatural speed and quality" (Rose 108). It was also thought that human time did not exist in fairyland, and many of the legends describe children that go with the fairies for festivities and dance and return the on what seems the next day to find that decades had passed.

The myth of the fairy was thought to have originated in Celtic and Norse regions. The fairy gave the Irish a sense of pride that they had never felt before. They had never had a folk story originate from their country and were proud to say that fairies were seen there first. Many countries after Ireland soon began to report the sightings of these magical beings, but in Ireland "fairies were almost a political and cultural necessity" (Silver 34). Many legends and stories originated from them and began to expand into the whole culture of Europe.

The oldest origin of the fairy was directly connected to the earth and the elements, back to the fifteenth-century alchemists and mystics. People in the Middle Ages believed that fairies were sacred guardians of nature and all the natural elements. The works of Paracelsus in the fifteenth century spoke of these beings and described them as "the sylphs of air, the salamanders of ...


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