Thursday, 21 September 2017

Away With the Fairies

When I was young and just staring into space - probably imagining myself on a voyage to the Moon, or the Earth's core - grown-ups would remark that I was 'away with the fairies'. I don't know if people still say it nowadays, but the meaning is clear. Fairies, the Good Folk, the Little People, or whatever you call 'em, could enchant people. They might steal you bodily, or just nick your soul. But they were always out there, watching, waiting...


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Yes, you can spell it that way if you like. No, I'm not being all grumpy.

Fairies don't feature strongly in modern supernatural fiction for obvious reasons. The Victorian conception of the fairie-folk was twee and harmless. Shakespeare's Ariel and Puck were both powerful beings of a normal-ish size. But once supernatural beings get to be tiny and cute (sort of) any potential for unease is banished. Garden gnomes are scarier than 19th century fairies.


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Your basic Victorian fairies, here, escaping from a children's book to be photographed for the benefit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, before all those sentimental authors and artists got their hands on the Little People, they were a bit bigger and more menacing. Which beings me to something I was vaguely aware of before, but which popped up on Twitter today, as part of #folklorethursday. I refer to the legendary Fairy Flag of Clan MacLeod.
It’s not clear how the flag got into the MacLeods’ possession – either a gift from the fairies to an infant chieftain, a gift to a chief from a departing fairy-lover, or a reward for defeating an evil spirit. But the flag likely originated somewhere far away from Scotland, potentially even in the Middle East.



The story about gift from a lover underlines the point that old-time fairies must have been somewhat larger than, say, Tinkerbell. Another aspect of the legend is that the flag can be waved three times to summon magical help for the clan, but will then be borne away, along with the standard bearer. All evocative stuff. Makes you wonder...

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3 comments:

Oscar Solis said...

Good post. I have to admit that I have very little patience with stuff like the Cottingham incident and especially the whole Disney approach to fairies (personally, I feel that the Disney organization has done so much damage to the imagination of children but that's neither here nor there).

Are you familiar with Eddie Lenihan and his book "Meeting the Other Crowd: The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland"? It's pretty good, one of the reasons being that it's far from the juvenile approach that dominates the subject. Also worth a view is a film called "Glenafooka: Glen of the Ghost", which is an oral history of fairy folklore, as well as ghost stories. It's a well made film that captures the mood of it's subject beautifully. The whole film used to be on Snagfilms but not any longer. However, clips can be found on Youtube.

valdemar said...

Interesting! Thanks, I will look out for those.

Oscar Solis said...

"Glenafooka: Glen of the Ghost" is back on Snagfilms. Here's the link:

http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/glenafooka