Do Faeries Have Tails? and other mysteries

Posted: July 2, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

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When my daughter and I embarked on the journey that has become our novel, The Last Princess, we had a lot of details to iron out. Many – or most – of them got worked out along the way or as necessity demanded, but a key few details were set in stone right from the start.

One was whether to use traditional names and attributes for our fairytale creatures, or to use the more common and more well-known modern interpretations of them. On this I was adamant; traditional as much as possible.

Since we are looking back in time with our “secret history” of what really happened to the elves and gnomes and so forth, I thought we should look at the origins of those creatures. It didn’t make sense to me to muddy the waters with conflicting modern notions based on dozens of movies and TV commercials and so forth.

For example: Elves. We have two modern images of the elf. One is the tall, beautiful people who live in the forest, are terribly mysterious, and use bows and arrows. These were made popular (and to a large degree defined) by Tolkein’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books. The other popular image of elves is the tiny, silly people who wear curly shoes and pointy hats with bells on them, and who make toys for Santa or make shoes for poor craftsmen down on their luck. Or bake cookies.

From what I’ve been able to dig up in my research, those creatures are actually brownies. Brownies like to hide during the day and come out at night, doing chores for the family they have “adopted” in return for bowls of cream or other morsels. Elves are not craftsmen; they are hunters. Elves have their origins on Norse myth, which may account for the connection to the North Pole, and even their curly shoes. But you would never find a Norse elf baking cookies in a tree or slinking around Hogwarts wearing rags.

No elf

26Another blurring of the lines is more recent: the difference between a fairy and a pixie. Tinker bell is a pixy (actually, the original term was “piskie”). Fairies (actually “faeries”) were usually thought to be full-sized people of such beauty that they shone with their own light. More like Tolkein’s elves than the Disney Fairies. In fact, in the original Peter Pan Tinker Bell is referred to as “a common fairy.” The fact that these fairies live in Pixie Hollow and use pixie dust only serves to confuse the matter. It may be that “fairies” refer collectively to a large family of magical, mischievous creatures, such as sprites, nymphs, piskies, bogles, etc., and that the glowing, regal, super-beings who are thought to have ruled the Seelie Court were a special breed called the Sidhe (roughly pronounced “shee”). But to be sure I think we’d have to go back in time and talk to the folk who passed down the stories, which have been lost or altered.

In fact, I plan to do just that in the next book, when our hero is the victim of a misfired wish. So I will definitely have more research ahead of me.

But let me share a few tidbits I have already dug up.

  • Dwarves are German in origin, so it is unlikely they would have a Scottish accent.
  • Genies (jinn) don’t live in bottles; imps do. And imps have red skin, horns and a tail like “devils.” Except there is only one “devil.”
  • The term “a little birdie told me” came from sylphs, creatures of the wind, who were often employed as messengers.
  • Goblins, ogres and trolls often get mixed up and interchanged, but they are quite distinct. Ogres eat children but are timid, trolls turn to stone in the sun, and goblins are small and vicious, but only in large numbers.
  • Gremlins are not really old enough to be considered mythical creatures; they were “invented” during WWII to explain the frequent aircraft malfunctions.

I expect I have some of these facts wrong. And I would be delighted if you would set me straight. Please share what you know and where I can learn more in the comments below.

NEWSFLASH: We’re getting close to finishing the first draft of The Last Princess.  If you would like to sign up to be a beta reader, please use the “Beta Reader Sign-Ups” tab at the top of this page.

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Comments
  1. kdaugh1992 says:

    I signed up to be a beta reader! Also, a book you and your daughter might enjoy is “Stardust” by Neil Gaiman. It was a movie, but the book is written like a traditional fairytale. I love reading about this on your blog because I read fantasies and fairytales all the time when I was younger

    Like

  2. Hey there! Great post over all. One thing to note is that the Norse divided elves into “light” and “dark” with the dark elves being closer to dwarves. They are the ones that forge Thor’s hammer, for instance.

    Like

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