Fairies gave the name to the fairy tales, so we can safely presume a fairy is a necessary element in a fairy tale, right? Wrong!
Only a portion of fairy tales have fairies and majority is doing just fine without them. Tales of wonder or even stories of enchantment would probably be more suitable name.
The French term le contes de fees indeed implies there is a fairy in the tale, but we should understand it more liberally as the tale where something magical happens. In some cases fairies carry the magic and in some cases somebody else does the job.
Another misunderstanding may be thought about fairies being good and generous, because everybody knows how one of them helped the Cinderella and other to the Sleeping Beauty. Well, we can immediately add in Grimms’ Household and Children Tales Cinderella managed to go to the ball without a fairy and in the Sleeping Beauty an old and evil fairy cursed the girl in the first place.
What about Tinkerbell? I am talking about original character, not Disney’s polished one. Real Tinkerbell can be nice, but in general she is pretty mean little lady. Jealous at Wendy she even organized her death! Talking about more serious stuff, we can’t miss Morgan le Fay from Arthurian legends and in my opinion every witch can fall in this category. Life is not black and white and first fairies were really complex characters, suitable for Greek Dramas.
Here are several additional interesting facts about fairies:
- It seems only boring adults can’t see the fairies. They are visible to children, especially girls and everybody who believes in fairy tales. Although fairies could be found all over the world, most people believe they originate in Ireland. Some think they are actually fallen angels, what could explain their love for all kinds of pranks. Some of them even steal babies. Perhaps because their favorite sound is laughter of the children?
- Fairies can appear in different shapes and sizes. Some are tiny as butterflies, other can be huge as clouds. They are born to solve problems. In general every fairy posses special gift, so when problems occur, different fairies feel obligated to offer a help. But beware! If a fairy helps you, simple thanks is not enough. Fairy expects something in return. In most cases this should be some kind of gift. Depending on the species, this could be a bowl of cream (Brownies in Scotland) or something shiny (they love old, forgotten stuff, like buttons) or some kind of favor. When a fairy offers you a help, you should be very very careful!
- Some of the most famous fairies are:
a) Banshees: they are rarely seen, but their main characteristic is sound. It is believed a scream of banshee in front of the house predicts a death of somebody inside. While at first they predicted only death of members of one of five major families in Ireland, in time families mixed and now every family has its own banshee. They are often portrayed combing their long hair and finding a comb in his yard is considered as very bad omen.
b) Dryads: they live in trees. Every one watches her own tree. If somebody hurts the tree, dryad will try to punish him. If the tree dies, she dies with it. This is the reason why Greeks believed they have to ask gods for permission if they wanted to cut down the tree.
c) Merrows (also mermaids and mermaids): they are water spirits portrayed as half human (from waste up) and half fish. They are in general nice and gentle being who like people and can even start families with them. The problem is their huge desire for home under water. Mermaids like to seduce young men who will follow them under the ocean and live with them in their world, but if a man manages to get mermaid’s red cap, she will stay with him on the lan. At least until she discovers the cap …
d) Pixies: they are wingless, with typical pointy ears, like to play pranks on people and have complex hierarchy with royalties, nobility and everything related. In most cases they wear green. Although most of their tricks is harmless, they can mislead a traveler from the path and cause major accidents.
e) Toothy fairies: they collect baby teeth left under pillows and leave small gifts in exchange. There is a long tradition of superstitions related to baby teeth, from belief they should be buried or burned to somehow protect the owner, to using the as talismans in battles. Tooth fairies are today often explained as a a tool, at helping children to overcome the fear of loosing a tooth and we should not forget how important is for mothers to believe their children are still kids, not growing up too fast …
Do you believe in fairies?