When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies. --Sir James M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Fairies, sprites, leprechauns, and wee folk of all kinds have enchanted us from the misty dawn of time. I still remember the look of delight and wonder when, at age four, my daughter Hannah sighted her first fairy. We were reading Peter Pan (the Disney version) when I noticed a dancing reflection of light off the face of my watch. I stopped reading, pointed at the bouncing spot, and whispered, "Look, it's Tinkerbell!" Hannah's eyes grew round as "Tinkerbell" danced closer, landed on her hand, then blinked out. She laughed, calling out for "Tinkerbell" to come back, which, of course, she did.
Barrie was not the first to write of fairies, and the fair folk are still a staple of fantasy writers and artists. As a genre writer, my library is filled with exotica from The Physics of Star Trek to Textiles from Medieval Egypt. But my favorite books are fantasy encyclopedias such as The Encyclopedia of Things that Never Were and Gnomes, which are as satisfying to look at as they are to read. In a prominent place on my shelf is the 1976 best-selling Faeries, written and illustrated by Brian Froud and Alan Lee and still in print. Froud, who lives in Devon, England, also developed the conceptual art designs for Jim Henson's films The Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth.
Froud recently reentered the fairy book market with Good Faeries, Bad Faeries: 2 Books in 1 (Simon and Schuster), which updates his classic. Using an encyclopedic format, he provides over 200 entries illustrated with his own striking artwork. One side presents the good fairies -- everything from the familiar "Faery Godmother" to Boon, who protects children from bad dreams. Turn the book over and you find the bad fairies. We glimpse such imps as Frid, who formerly liked to trip people and now evinces particular interest in the state of roads and pavements. He is joined by his cousins the pen stealing and the credit card fairies, responsible for their own urban disasters.
The three newest books in the fairy realm are very different in content and approach, but all have lush and abundant art to feed the eye as well as the mind. The most comprehensive of the three is The Great Encyclopedia of Faeries, "secrets revealed" by author and self-styled elficologist Pierre Dubois. This oversized book contains 183 pages of fairy lore. The French author covers not only the traditional Celtic wee folk, but all magical creatures of vaguely human shape from around the world. Dubois sees fairies as distinctly feminine creatures, calling them Wild Ladies, Faerie Wives, goddesses of places, and mistresses of dreams. He assigns "Male Faeries, Fatis and Feetauds" a mere two pages of the entire tome.
The book is handily organized by fairy type and place with chapters such as "Maidens of Cloud and Time," "The Faeries of Rivers and the Sea," and "The Ethereal Ones of Infinite Dreams." Dubois provides extensive commentary on each of his subjects, weaving literary references with sidebars covering appearance, clothes, habitat, food, customs, and activities. At the end is an extensive bibliography for anyone who wants to consult the original references, many in French. Claudine and Roland Sabatier provide over 200 rich color portraits and illustrations to bring these exotic creatures to life.
Faeries: Doorways to the Enchanted Realm by Lori Eisenkraft-Palazzola, published by Smithcraft Publishers, presents fairy lore as an anthropological study. The author claims, with her tongue firmly in cheek, "this is not a book of silly stories or fantastic fiction. It is the history and truth of peoples whose chronicle spans a time long before ours began." Because there are very few ruins, no fossilized bones, no scrolls written in fairy script, and no fairy artwork, Eisenkraft-Palazzola suggests we examine "the factual and detailed stories passed down through the generations . . . and the documents recorded from eyewitnesses."
After examining the evidence in chapters covering such topics as fairy mischief, enchantment, and encounters, the author concludes, "I know the faeries are there . . . when I smell the flowers or hear wind chimes that don't exist . . . the wee ones are hailing me and playing somewhere quite nearby." This 90-page, oversized volume is packed with nearly 50 reproductions of fairy art from the last two centuries. The varying styles from woodcuts to classical paintings to whimsical drawings show the full range of human effort to capture these ethereal beings in a permanent form. A complete bibliography and photo reference are valuable additions.
The final entry into the recent exploration of fairy lore is a slim book titled simply The Fairies by Suza Scalora, published by HarperCollins. Scalora, a commercial photographer, provides us with a striking volume of "fairy photographs." Her book is also the only one with a "story." In the introduction the author claims she is "an archeologist, a woman of science" who was given an unfinished manuscript called "Field Guide to Fairies" by a mysterious woman in a yellow dress. The Field Guide provided the author with background information on a variety of fairies including where they can be sighted, the best lures, and peak sighting periods. This inspired her to journey around the world to capture these enchanting creatures on film. The quest is not easy and the "Unknown Fairy," shown on film as a blur of yellow, saves the author from more than one misadventure.
The result is a uniquely artful book with sixteen "fairy photographs" from the Yellow-green Woodland Fairy of New York to the Black Swan Fairy of Brazil. Scalora, a commercial photographer, does extraordinary work in creating the illusion of fairies in their natural habitat. The photos are saturated with color: blue, purple, ice, gold. For those who like their fantasies intact, avoid the back matter where Scalora credits the set, costume, and wing designers as well as the models that play the fairies.
These four books are just the most recent in a distinguished tradition of fantasy lore and art. They are well worth considering for anyone who writes about, is inspired by, or -- like me -- just enjoys the beauty and childish innocence of fairies. It's many years later and Hannah long ago figured out who leaves the money under her pillow for her baby teeth, but at the sight of any stray bouncing reflection, she still laughs, pointing out, "There's Tinkerbell!"
Faith L. Justice has worked as a lifeguard, paralegal, college professor, and business consultant. Now she earns her living freelance writing. She has published numerous non-fiction articles, short stories, and poems; completed a historical novel; and is working on a sequel. She lives with her husband, daughter, and cat in New York City.