Fairies and Elizabeth Goudge

Dartmoor 1

Faery King & Queen by Alan Lee

From The Joy of Snow, an autobiography by Elizabeth Goudge (author of The Little White Horse, Linnets & Valerians and other classics), who lived in Marldon near Dartmoor in the 1940s: 

"I think that in my heart I have always believed in fairies,not fairies as seen in the picture books but nature spirits whose life is part of the wind and the flowers and the trees. Born in the West Country, and returning to it in middle life, how could I do anything else? But alas, I have never seen them.

"William Blake saw fairies, but he was a unique person, and so was a Dartmoor friend of mine who used to see them, and how I envied her! But if I did not see them I could feel how magic ran in the earth and branched in one's veins when one sat down. The stories that some of my Dartmoor friends told me would be laughed at by most people, but they were sensible persons and they did not laugh. I think that probably the one among my friends who experienced most was the one who said the least about it, Adelaide Phillpotts, Eden Phillpotts' daughter. She lived for years upon the moor and she loved it so deeply that she was not afraid to spend whole nights alone on the tors; but she is a mystic and mystics seem always unafraid. Her book The Lodestar is full of the wild spirit of the moor.

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Cowslip faery by Brian Froud"The friend who saw fairies, when she first went to live in her cottage on the moor, was visited early in the morning by a little old woman, wearing a bonnet, who walked quietly into the kitchen where she was preparing breakfast. Friendly and smiling the old woman refused breakfast but sat down to chat. She wanted to know exactly what my friend intended to do in the garden. What flowers would she have? What vegetables? She had very bright eyes and nodded her head in approval as they talked. She seemed a happy old woman, very much at home in the kitchen, but when my friend turned away for a moment she found on looking around again that her visitor had left her. She was never seen again and when the neighbors were questioned they denied ever having seen such an old woman in the village.


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"Another friend was driving back to her home on the moor one summer evening when she found herself in the most beautiful wood. She had no sense of strangeness but drove through it entranced by the loveliness of the evening light shining through the trees. Coming out of the wood she found herself at home, put the car away and went about the normal business of the evening, and only gradually did she remember that her road home lay through an open stretch of moorland. There was no wood there; not now.

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"The next day she went to see an old man who had lived all his life on the moor and told him what had happened. He nodded his head.

"'I know the wood, ma'am,' he told her. 'I've been there myself. But only once. You'll not see it again. It's only once in a lifetime.' "

Fairies by Arthur Rackham

Although Goudge never saw fairies herself, she did have a mystical experience in Devon:

"My mother and I had a cottage in an apple orchard at the edge of a village," she explains, "and behind the cottage, between the orchard and the village, there was  a steep hill. To the right, Dartmoor was visible, but otherwise the place was a little valley in the hills that had a magic of its own. There were a few other small dwellings besides our own, an old house behind a high wall, a farm and some cottages, and so strictly speaking the place was not a lonely one, and yet, because of its particular magic, it was. Especially in the early morning and especially after a snow-fall. There is something very lonely about a deep snow-fall and Devon snow, because the average rainfall is high, is almost always deep. One is walled in and cut off. The world seems very far away and the heart rejoices.

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"In spring, in Devon, there is often a sudden late snow-fall taking one entirely by surprise. I remember once seeing irises and tulips with their bright heads lifted above a deep counterpane of snow, and boughs of apple blossoms sprinkled with sparkling silver. But the snowfall [on this occasion] was earlier in the year. There were only the low-growing flowers in bloom in the garden and they were all buried out of sight. There had been no wind in the night, no suggestion that the last snow of the year was falling, and when I drew the curtains early in the morning I was astonished to see the white world. And what a world! I had never seen a snow-fall so beautiful and I was out in the garden at the first possible moment. The snowclouds had dropped their whole treasure in the night and were gone. The huge empty sky was deep blue, the air sparkling and clear. The sun was rising and the tree shadows lay blue across the sparkling whiteness. The whole world was pure blue and white and it seemed that the sun had lit every crystal to a point of fire. There was a silence so absolute it seemed a living presence. And then came the singing.

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"It was a solo voice, ringing out joy and praise. One would have said it was a woman's voice, only could any woman sing like that, with such simplicity and beauty? It lasted for some minutes, and then ceased, and the deep silence came back once more.

And a Fairy Song by Arthur Rackham

"I stayed where I was, as rooted in the snow as the trees, but there was no return of the singing and so I went back to the cottage and mechanically began the first task of the day, raking out the ashes of the dead fire and lighting a new one. The light of the flames helped me to think. None of us, in the little group of dwellings in the valley had a voice much above a sparrow's chirp. No one in the village that I knew had a voice like that. It was war-time and visitors from the outside world seldom came. Even if by some extraordinary chance some great singer had descended upon us, what would she be doing struggling down the steep lane from the village in deep snow at this hour of a cold morning? And wouldn't I have seen her? I could see both lanes from the little terrace outside the cottage and had seen no one. There were only two explanations. Either I was mad or I had heard a seraph singing. Later when I took my mother her breakfast I told her of the singing. She looked at me and, as usual, made no comment whatsoever.

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"And so, for some years, I inclined to the former view and told no one else about the singing. And then, one day after the war had ended, a very sensitive and sympathetic cousin came to visit us and told me about a holiday he had had in the wilds of Argyll. He had always wanted, he said, to talk to someone who had heard the singing and at last he come upon an old crofter who could tell him about it. The old man had been alone in the hills when he heard a clear voice, unearthly and very beautiful, singing in the silence. He could see no one, he could distinguish no words in the singing and the song was one he did not know. He tried to hum the air and my cousin tried to write it down, but they neither of them made much of a job of it. 'You never heard it again?' my cousin asked and the old man said, like the old countryman who was in the wood only once, 'No, never again.'

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"My cousin told this tale so beautifully that I was too awed and shy to tell him, then, about my own experience. Besides, the great paean of praise I had heard in the snow seemed at that moment a little theatrical in comparison with the soft unearthly singing in the hills of Argyll. But, some years later, I did tell him. He was very kind, and he did not doubt my sincerity, but somehow I seemed to see at the back of his mind the figure of a stout opera singer from Covent Garden who had somehow, even in war-time and deep snow, got herself hidden behind the fir trees at the corner of our Devon garden.

'It does not matter. I remember that singing every morning of my life and I greet every sunrise with the memory. The birds, who had been singing so riotously, had been chilled to silence by that snowstorm. I have decided now that she, whoever she was, sang their dawn-song for them."

The Fairies' Tiff with the Birds by Arthur Rackham

Three books by Elizabeth Goudge

Words: The passage by Elizabeth Goudge is from The Joy of Snow: An Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton, 1974). The poem in the picture captions is from Marrow of Flame by Dorothy Walters (Poetry Chaikhana, 2015). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: "King & Queen of the Faery Hill" by Alan Lee and"Cowslip Faery" by Brian Froud are from their book Faeries (Abrams, 1978); all rights reserved. The last three fairy pictures are by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). The Dartmoor photographs were taken by the Scorhill stone circle, near Gidleigh. The beautiful quilt in the last photo was made by Karen Meisner. A related post: Visiting Moonacre Manor (from The Little White Horse).

The stolen child

The Changeling by Arthur Rackham

It's International Fairy Day, and so today's post is on fairy changelings....

"Come away, O human child!" call the fairies in a poem by William Butler Yeats inspired by Irish folktales of children abducted to fairyland. Yeats was a folklore enthusiast and a life-long believer in the fairy folk. His poem "The Stolen Child" is rooted in changeling tales found throughout the British Isles, as well as in other lands with fairy traditions of their own. Changeling stories are not "fairy tales" as the term is commonly used today. They are not set "once upon a time" in magical lands distant from our own, like fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, or Puss in Boots. Changeling stories are folk legends, usually set in the same country as the teller, and come from an ancient belief system in which fairies are real, co-existing with mortals.

Fairies Bearing Lanterns by Arthur RackhamA typical changeling story is the following tale from the mountains of northern Wales: A farmer and his wife lived in a cottage with their infant son. One day, while the farmer was in the field, the wife was called away from home to tend to the health of an old woman who lived just down the road. The child was sleeping peacefully, so the farmwife left the babe in the cradle while she visited her neighbor, turning homeward again at dusk. As she
traveled back, her path was crossed by the Twyleth Teg (the fairies of Wales), so she rushed to her house and was greatly relieved to find the cradle undisturbed. She quickly scattered salt on the doorstep and on each of the windowsills to protect the child from fairy mischief, as she should have done before.

Alas, she was too late. The boy had been a fat and jolly child, but now he grew pale and wan and howled in his cradle for hours on end.

"This creature is not ours," said the farmer.

"Whose then should he be?" said the wife.

"He belongs to the Twyleth Teg," said the man. "We must put him out on the cold hillside and see if the fairies come to reclaim him." But his wife would not allow any harm to come to the child she thought was her own.

The troubled woman continued to feed and dress and clean the babe, though his face now looked like a wizened old man's and his milk teeth grew into points. The infant's appetite grew and grew while his chest and his stick-like limbs seemed to shrink. When the baby had eaten through all of their stores, and still he continued to howl for more, the farmwife left the cottage to seek her old neighbor's advice.

"Go home," the old woman replied, "and do what I shall tell you to do. Then you will know if this is your son, or one of the Twyleth Teg."

Changeling by PJ LynchFollowing the old woman's instructions, the farmwife procured a large hen's egg, returned to the cottage, and broke the egg in front of the child's cradle. She cleaned the shell and filled it with porridge, then set it to boil on the fire. The infant watched her closely with a frown on his wizened face. Finally, he could contain his curiosity no longer. "What are you doing?" the boy piped up.

The woman was startled to hear him speak but answered as she'd been instructed. "Why, I'm making dinner for the men in the fields. They'll be hungry after all of their work."

The infant laughed and said: "Acorn before oak I knew, and an egg before a hen, but never before have I seen an eggshell brew dinner for harvest men."

With these words, the creature betrayed his great age and the farmwife knew that her husband was right. This was not their own dear boy but a fairy who'd taken his place. She picked up the shovel and put more coals on the fire until it roared with heat.

"What are you doing now?" asked the infant.

"Preparing to throw you on the fire." As she spoke these words, she snatched him up and threw the creature onto the flames, where he changed to a puff of smoke and left the house through the chimney. And in his place sat her own fine son, returned by the Twyleth Teg.

Faerie Folk by Arthur Rackham

There are numerous variants of this curious story. In some versions the threat of violence alone is enough to betray the fairy's true nature, while in others it's beer that the farmwife brews in a shell, to the fairy's surprise. In a changeling tale from the Isle of Man, a visiting tailor discovers the fairy's deception. When his hosts leave the house to work in the fields, leaving the tailor alone with the child, the infant leaps up from the cradle, demanding whisky and a fiddle tune. In most stories, the human child is restored safe and sound once the changeling has fled, though there are bleaker versions in which the only resolution of the tale is the banishment of the troublesome fairy, while the real child remains lost forever. In some of the tales, however, further action is needed to save the child, kept in captivity or slavery in a fairy hill.

Looking into the Faery Hill by Alan LeeIn a tale from the West Highlands of Scotland, for instance, the son of a smith is stolen away and an evil–tempered changeling called a Sibhreach is left in his place. The Sibhreach is exposed and banished, but still the mortal child remains missing, and the smith must go in search of him beneath a fairy hill. He waits for a night when the hill will be open, then follows the sound of fairy music. Armed with a Bible, a knife, and a cock, he walks boldly into the fairy court. The Bible protects him from their mischief, the knife holds open the door of the hill, and the crowing cock annoys the fairies so much that they toss the smith and his son back into the mortal world.

There are various reasons given for the fairies' penchant for stealing human children. Some tales imply that the young mortals are destined for lives as servants or slaves, or are kept (in the manner of pets) for the amusement of their fairy masters. Some stories (in echo of the folk ballad Tam Lin) suggest a darker purpose: that the faeries must pay a tithe of blood to the devil every seven years, and prefer to pay with mortal blood rather than blood of their own. In some traditions, however, it's simply the beauty of the children that attracts the fairies, who also kidnap pretty young women, artists, and musicians. The ability of fairies to procreate is a debatable issue in fairy lore. Some stories maintain that the fairies do procreate, though not as often as humans. By occasionally interbreeding with mortals and claiming mortal babes as their own, they bring new blood into Fairyland and keep their bloodlines strong. Other tales suggest that they cannot breed, or do so with such rarity that jealousy of human fertility is the motive behind child-theft.

Some stolen children, the tales tell us, will spend their whole lives in Fairyland -- and may even find happiness there, losing all desire for the lands of men. Other tales tell us that human children cannot thrive beneath the hills, and eventually sicken and die for want of mortal food and drink. Some fairies maintain their interest in child captives only during their infancy, tossing the children out of the fairy realm when they show signs of age. Such children, restored to the human world, are not always happy among their own kind, and spend their mortal lives pining for a way to return to Faerie.

Changelings by Alan LeeOne of the interesting aspects of changeling tales is that each contains the seeds of two separate stories: of the human child in fairyland, and of the changeling in the mortal world. The changeling "child" isn't usually a child at all, but merely takes on that appearance. Sometimes changelings are old, nasty fairies who revel in the sorrow they cause; or fairies with prodigious appetites for human food or mortal breast milk. Sometimes the changelings are fairies so old and worn out that their kinfolk have left them behind, happy to be rid of them in exchange for a plump human child. In these cases, the changeling withers and dies while the human parents look on, grieving for the loss of a baby they think is their own son. Yet we do find some interesting stories in which the fairy changeling is also a child. One tale from England's West Country tells of a farmer's youngest son who is stolen and replaced by a sickly, sallow, silent imp of a boy. The farmer and his wife raise the queer little child as tenderly as their own. Some years later, a piskie appears at their door. "Father!" the boy cries out. The pair runs off, and the farm is blessed with good fortune from that day forward (though no mention is made, at the end of the tale, of the fate of the farmer's true son.) Sometimes the changeling is not even a fairy -- merely a stock of wood, or a block of wax, enchanted to look like a child. When the trick is discovered, the "infant" must be thrown onto the hearth fire. Wood burns, or wax melts away, and then the true child is restored.

Faery sketches by Brian Froud

In Germany, the Brothers Grimm collected a number of interesting changeling tales, such as the story of the Rye-Mother (or Grain-Wife), published in German Legends. A nobleman had forced one of his peasants to work binding sheaves during the harvest, even though the poor woman had given birth but a few weeks before. She took the child to the field, laid it down, and got on with her work, despite her fears for the child because it had not yet been properly baptized. Some time later, the nobleman himself saw a Rye-Mother cross the field. She carried a child in her arms, which she Faery Child by Julia Jeffriesexchanged for the peasant's baby. The false child began to cry, and the peasant hurried over to nurse it -- but the nobleman held her back. He made her wait while the child cried and wailed -- until at last the Rye-Mother returned, exchanged the children again, and left with her own child, who now quieted in his mother's arms. "After seeing all of this transpire," the Grimms write, "the nobleman summoned the peasant woman and told her to return home. And from that time forth he resolved to never again force a woman who had recently given birth to work."

In other German stories, mortal children are stolen and held captive by bands of elves, who leave greedy changelings called killcrops behind in the cradle, wailing for food. The killcrop is revealed through the brewing of beer in an eggshell, or some other trick, then threatened with violence to make it flee, restoring the mortal child. Nickerts were German water fairies fond of stealing children from unwary parents, then taking their place in the cradle in order to eat mortal food and milk. Nixies also inhabited German rivers, and could be dangerous. "From time to time nixies would emerge from the Saal River," wrote the Brothers Grimm, "and go into the city of Saalfeld where they would buy fish at the market. They could be recognized by their large, dreadful eyes and by the hems of their skirts that were always dripping wet. It is said that they were mortals who, as children, had been taken away by nixies, who had then left changelings in their place."

Changeling by John Baum

In Scandinavia, healthy mortal infants had to be guarded from covetous trolls, who found them more beautiful and appealing than their own peevish, hairy troll children. One farmwife, suspecting her own sweet-natured child had been stolen by the trolls, was determined to rid herself of the troublesome creature who had taken his place. She set a cauldron in the hearth, took hold of the porridge spoon and bound a number of rods to it till the spoon reached up to the ceiling. "Well!" the child blurted out. "I am old as the trees and old as the hills, but never in my life have I seen such a long, long spoon for such a small, small pot!" Confirmed in her suspicions, the farmwife beat the changeling with her broom. As he howled and wailed, a trollwife entered the cottage bearing the farmwife's son and said, "See how we differ! I've cherished your son, while you beat my husband black and blue!" She then took the changeling by the hand and disappeared up the chimney.

Similar tales can be found the world over. In India, tigers steal mortal children and leave behind tiger cubs in disguise. When the trick is uncovered and the cubs threatened with harm, the tiger reappears, restores the mortal child, and leaves again with his wild brood. In Japan, children stolen by the fairies are rarely restored to the human world unless the substitution can be discovered before the child eats fairy food. In an odd twist on the theme, in old Persian tales it is the fairies (called peries) whose children are stolen -- by evil creatures called djinn, who substitute their own children instead. 

Fairy children by Brian FroudWe also find stories in various cultures in which such substitution, rather than abduction, is the goal. In these tales, mortals are the unwitting foster parents for faery children; such children are generally odd, dreamy, and incapable of human emotion. Eventually these parents learn that the changeling child is not, in fact, of their blood. The changeling is called back to Fairyland, and the human child is restored.

A number of preventive measures are recommended to insure against fairy abduction. Writing in Notes of the Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Border, William Henderson tells us: "In the southern counties of Scotland children are considered before baptism at the mercy of the fairies, who may carry them off at pleasure or inflict injury upon them. Hence, of course, it is unlucky to take unbaptized children on a journey...Danish women guard their children during this period against evil spirits by placing in the cradle, or over the door, garlic, salt, bread, and steel in the form of some sharp instrument...In Germany, the proper things to lay in the cradle are 'orant' (which is translated into either horehound or snapdragon), blue marjoram, black cumin, a right shirtsleeve, and a left stocking. Follwing he Fairies by Arthur RackhamThe 'Nickert' cannot then harm the child. The modern Greeks dread witchcraft at this period of their children's lives, and are careful not to leave them alone during their first eight days, within which period the Greek Church refuses to baptize them."

Other charms include wreaths made of ivy and oak, which hindered fairy access to a house; also salt on the doorstep, or branches of rowan, or the father's shirt draped over the cradle.

Most of the children kidnapped were boys, so another method of thwarting the fairies was to dress little boys in girls' clothing and then to call them by female names. Newborn babies, it was advised, must be zealously guarded their first three days, and then closely watched until their baptism, when the threat of abduction lessened. Yet even older children could be stolen or tempted into Fairyland. Just as today young children are warned that they must never take candy from strangers, generations ago they were warned to beware of faeries that lurked in the countryside, seductive creatures who would whisk them away, never to be seen again.

Peter Pan (as a baby) by Arthur Rackham

When we hear fairy tales, we're hearing a story we believe in just for the length of the tale -- stories of impossible things, enchanted princesses and cats in boots. Fairy legends, however, were cautionary tales meant to illustrate the particular dangers of encounters with creatures that many people once believed in.

Fairies and piskies by Brian FroudThe 16th century preacher Martin Luther recounts this tale of a changeling in Germany: "Eight years ago at Dessau, I, Dr. Martin Luther, saw and touched a changeling. It was twelve years old, and from its eyes and the fact that it had all of its senses, one could have thought that it was a real child. It did nothing but eat; in fact, it ate enough for any four peasants or threshers. It ate, shit, and pissed, and whenever someone touched it, it cried. When bad things happened in the house, it laughed and was happy; but when things went well, it cried. It had these two virtues. I said to the Princes of Anhalt: 'If I were the prince or the ruler here, I would throw this child into the water -- into the Molda that flows by Dessau. I would dare commit homicidium on him!' But the Elector of Saxony, who was with me at Dessau, and the Princes of Anhalt did not want to follow my advice. Therefore, I said: 'Then you should have all Christians repeat the Lord's Prayer in church that God may exorcise the devil.' They did this daily at Dessau, and the changeling child died in the following year....Such a changeling child is only a piece of flesh, a massa carnis, because it has no soul."

Changeling stories are both fascinating and horrifying when we realize how such tales once accounted for the mysteries of wasting diseases, physical or mental disabilities, even differences of neurodivergence. Children suffering illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy and spina bifida, or simply born with conditions such as Downs syndrome, were explained away as fairy changelings, sometimes with deeply tragic results. As late as the 19th century in Britain, changeling stories in the press told of children subjected to violent "cures" intended to make the fairy flee and bring back the "real" child. Sir William Wilde (medical commissioner for the Irish census, and father of Oscar Wilde), writing in 1854, decried "the cruel endeavors to cure children and young persons of such maladies generally attempted by quacks and those termed 'fairy men' and 'fairy women'."

The Changeling, Abduction by Moonlight by Henry Fuessli

The most famous case of "fairy doctoring" involved a grown woman in 1895, and riveted newspaper readers all across the British Isles. This was the murder of Bridget Cleary, a handsome young Irish woman who was killed by her husband, family, and neighbors because they thought she was a fairy changeling. The facts are these: Bridget, a twenty-six-year-old dressmaker, and her husband Michael, a cooper, lived in a comfortable cottage near her family home in southern Ireland. Bridget fell sick with an undiagnosed illness (it may have been simple pneumonia); within a few days she was feverish, raving, and (according to her husband) no longer looked like herself. When regular medicine did not help, the family called in a "fairy doctor" -- for the cottage was located close to a fairy hill, which was bad luck. The fairy doctor confirmed that the ill woman was actually a fairy changeling and the real Bridget had been abducted, taken under the hill by the fairies as a consort or a slave. The doctor devised several ordeals designed to make the changeling reveal itself. Bridget was tied to the bed, forced to swallow potions, sprinkled with holy water and urine, swung over the hearth fire, and eventually burned to death by her increasingly desperate husband. Convinced it was a fairy he had killed and buried (with the aid of her family and neighbors), Michael then went to the fairy fort to wait for the "real" Bridget to ride out seated on a milk white horse. Bridget's disappearance was soon noted, the body found, the crime brought to life, and Michael and nine others were charged and prosecuted for murder.

Although the most flamboyant, this was far from the only case of changeling-murder in the Victorian press, although the poor changeling were more commonly children with physical or mental ailments, or those perceived to be wayward or different from the norm.

Fairy Visitation by John Anster Fitzgerald

Victorian interest in changeling stories extended to works of literature, as we see in many publication of the period with changeling themes. Children were abducted by goblins in George MacDonald's children's novel The Princess and the Goblin, for example, and the heroine of Amelia and the Dwarfs by Juliana Horatio Ewing was kidnapped by a pack of nasty dwarfs and replaced by a wooden stock. In Rudyard Kipling's Rewards and Fairies, Puck denies the fairies' reputation for stealing human children. ("All that talk of changelings is people's excuse for their own neglect," he says.) In Fiona MacLeod's affecting story "The Fara Ghael," a Scottish woman exposes her sickly changeling child on a lonely beach, and is given a beautiful girl in its place that she raises, thinking it is her own. Eventually she learns that wild, beautiful girl is the real changeling, and her own daughter was the unloved creature she'd left out by the tide. Other Victorian/Edwardian stolen-child stories include Walter Besant's The Changeling, Selma Lagerlöf's The Changeling, Dinah Muroch Craik's Olive, Arthur Machen's The Shining Pyramid,  Sheridan LeFanu's "The Child That Went With the Fairies," and John Buchan's "The Watcher by the Threshold."

The Goblin Child by Maurice Sendak

Changeling/stolen-child stories are closely related to "wild child" tales -- about lost children, runaway children and feral children in the wilderness -- the most famous of them being Mowgli's adventures in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. All of these themes come together in J.M Barrie's tales of Peter Pan, in which the lost or wild child, Peter, becomes a kind of fairy himself (identified with Puck, and Pan -- god of the wilderness), stealing away the children in the Darlings' nursery in London. The original text of Barrie's Peter and Wendy is far more interesting than the surgery Disney-flavor adaptations most people know today, for Barrie's humor is arch, dark, and sometimes downright sinister.

Whether the child is abandoned to the wilderness or runs away to it purposefully, the focus of "wild child" stories is very different than that of changeling tales. Here the children,  Here, the children live in a world beyond adult rules, a world of continual play and adventure, befriended by animals, fairies, outlaws, and other denizens of the forest. As parents, the thought of lost children is disturbing...but when we read such tales from a child's point of view, the idea of shedding the strictures of civilization and heading off into the wild is thrilling.

Wolf Boy by Danielle Barlow 2

Sketchbook drawing by Charles Altamont Doyle

"Come away, O human child!" call the fairies.

Come away from all human sorrow, they promise. Come into the wild, come under the hill, where life is an endless round of feasting, dancing, adventure and enchantment. But fairy promises can deceive, and following the elfin call (folklore reminds us) is a very dangerous proposition. We do not thrive in that Otherworld where the sun doesn't shine and the Folk never change and little boys and girls never grow up. We are mortal creatures, we belong to the lands of time and change, of sorrow and joy.

Close the door now, child. Lock the windows tight. Don't listen.

"Come away..."

Don't listen.

Eleanor Vere Boyle


Some further reading:

20th & 21st novels inspired by changeling tales include The Broken Sword by Poul Andersen, Tithe by Holly Black, The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier, The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, The Managerie by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski, The Lastborn of Elvinwood by Linda Haldeman, Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge, The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw, The Book of Atrix Wolfe by Patricia A. McKillip, Harvest of Changelings by Warren Rochelle, The Book of the Fey Series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Changeling by Delia Sherman, The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, The Changeling by me (a very short book for 8-to-12 year olds), and Changeling by Roger Zelazny. Some short stories: "The Changeling" by A.S. Byatt (from Sugar and Other Stories), "The Green Children" by John Crowley (from Elsewhere, Volume I), "Lullaby for a Changeling" by Nicholas Stuart Gray (from The Edge of Evening), "Debt in Kind" by Peg Kerr (from Weird Tales magazine, Fall 1990), "Catnyp" by Delia Sherman (from The Faery Reel), "Brat" by Theodore Sturgeon (from The Perfect Host), and "The Green Children" by me (from The Armless Maiden). There's also a gorgeous "Green Children" poem by Jane Yolen, and Sylvia Townsend Warner's brilliant collection of fairy stories of adults, The Kingdoms of Elfin. If I've missed any good books or stories, please add to this list in the Comments.

For more information about changelings, try: The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke, The Cooper’s Wife is Missing: The Trials of Bridget Cleary by Joan Hoff and Marian Yeates, At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Hobgoblins, Nymphs, and Other Troublesome Things by Diane Purkiss, Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness by Carole G. Silver, and the various fairy studies and guides by folklorist Katherine Briggs, Thomas Keightly, and W.Y. Evans-Wentz.

For more of my own writing about fairies/faeries, see my long essay on the subject: Fairies in Legend, Lore, and Literature. Fairies also appear in Tales of a Half-Tamed Land: Devon Folklore, Troll Maidens & the Magic of Bridges, and The Wild Hunt. Here's a page of links to fairy books I've worked on over the years, with Brian & Wendy Froud and others; and two pages of posts about the Modern Fairies project (scroll down to the beginning to read them in order). 

The art above is by Arthur Rackham, P.J. Lynch, Alan Lee, Brian Froud, Julia Jeffreys, John Bauer, Henry Fuseli, John Anster Fitzgerald, Maurice Sendak, Danielle Barlow, Charles Altamont Doyle, and Eleanor Vere Doyle. Each picture is individually credited in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.) All rights are reserved by the artists.

The Faerie Art of Brian & Wendy Froud

Twilight by Brian Froud

For those here and on social media who mentioned how much they loved Brian Froud's art in yesterday's post, here's a closer look at his work, which is deeply entwined with that of his wife Wendy Froud, a sculptor, puppet designer, and doll artist. They live close by here on Dartmoor, are old friends and colleagues, and I love them dearly.

The Froud family's thatch-roof farmhouse sits buried in ivy down a quiet country lane in England's West Country. Its old front door, with a goblin door-knocker, is a doorway into Faerieland. Inside is the kind of enchanted house one usually finds only in fantasy books: full of carved medieval furniture and tapestries, costumes, masks, old books, puppets and magical props from films. Faeries, goblins, trolls and sprites stare down from Brian's paintings on the walls, and cavort in the shape of magical dolls and sculptures created by Wendy.

The Faery & the Troll by Wendy Froud

Brian was born in Hampshire, raised Kent, and studied at the Maidstone College of Art. His deep involvement with folklore and myth began during his student days, he says, when he came across a book illustrated by Arthur Rackham in his college library. Rackham's goblins, faeries, undines, and tree folk re-awakening Brian's interest in the myths and legends he'd loved in childhood. He began to study the folklore of Britain, and then the tales of other lands, fascinated by the ways the magical traditions in all cultures shared common roots. When he left collage, Brian spent five years in London working in the field of commercial illustration, but he continued to paint mythic images and to develop a distinctive style of his own. (This early work was published in Once Upon a Time and The Land of Froud, both from David Larkin's Peacock Press.)

In 1975, Brian moved from London to Dartmoor, sharing a house with fellow-illustrator Alan Lee and his family. Inspired by the woods and hedgerows of Devon, and the ancient, myth-steeped landscape of the moor, the two collaborated on Faeries, an illustrated book of British faery lore. This marvelous, ground-breaking volume quickly became an international bestseller, and has influenced artists, writers, and folklorists all around the world in the decades since.

Two paintings from ''The Land of Froud''

Faery sketches by Brian Froud

Brian's faeries and magical vision of the world so impressed the American filmmaker Jim Henson (creator of the Muppets) that he asked Brian to come to New York to design two feature films: The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Like Faeries, the films were ground-breaking -- pioneering new puppet design and performance techniques. It was on the set of The Dark Crystal that Brian met Wendy, who created the "gelflings" and other creatures for the film. (In the photo below the two of them are at work in the Dark Crystal workshop.)

Brian & Wendy in the Henson workshop

Wise Woman and Gelfling by Wendy Froud

Wendy was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. "Both of my parents were artists," she says. "I've been a doll-maker all of my life. At about age five, as soon as I could bend a pipe-cleaner and bits of fabric together, I started to make the kind of dolls I couldn't find in stores: centaurs, satyrs, fauns, unicorns, and faeries. I wanted to be part of a magical realm, and so I created one for myself." 

Faeries by Wendy Froud

Wendy studied music and drama at Interlochen Arts Academy, then fabric design, jewelry, and ceramics at The Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. After graduation, she moved to New York City and landed a job which drew all her training together: working as a sculptor and puppet fabricator in Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Wendy worked on a number of different Henson projects, making puppets for The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, and the original prototype for Yoda in Star Wars. It was on the set of The Dark Crystal, however, with its imagery rooted in folklore and myth, that she found her greatest satisfaction, working with the shy-but-brilliant English faery artist at the heart of the film.

She married Brian during the filming of The Dark Crystal, was pregnant when work on Labyrinth began, and soon after gave birth to Toby, their son. The timing was co-incidental, but perfect. Toby ended up with a role in the film: playing the baby stolen by the Goblin King (David Bowie) and rescued by his sister (Jennifer Connelly).

David Bowie & Toby Froud in Labyrinth

After the films were done, the Froud family returned to Brian's village on Dartmoor. Rather than squeezing into his old cottage, a tiny place in the center of the village, they renovated a rambling Devon "longhouse" out in the countryside: a thatched granite building dating from medieval times, built over older Saxon foundations. In this atmospheric place, they set about creating a thoroughly magical environment filled with faeries, goblins, trolls, William Morris fabrics, antique toys, and shelves crowded with folklore texts. Brian set up a painting studio in a large room to one side of the house's central hall, while Wendy created two work spaces: a doll workshop in the eaves of the house, and a sculpting studio in the garden.

Come Here by Brian Froud

Although the Frouds never left film work altogether, during the years when Toby was young they chose to live more quietly in Devon, concentrating on creating art inspired by myths, legends, and fairy tales.

While Brian painted faeries and goblins, Wendy brought these same creatures to life in three-dimensional form, made of fimo, plaster, resin, cloth, feathers, leaves, and numerous other things -- mixing traditional art materials with found objects from the Devon woods. Some of Wendy's art is based on, or in dialogue with, Brian's paintings and sketches, while the rest explores a rich visual vocabulary that is uniquely her own.

Woodland faery by Wendy Froud

Pan by Wendy Froud

Brian has largely concentrated on what could be called "faery portraiture," building a large, wide-ranging body of work informed by the colors, shapes, and textures of the land around him. "I've been actively engaged with mythic imagery ever since I picked up that Rackham book," he says, "but it really came into focus for me when I moved from London to Dartmoor. As I walked through the woods and over the moor, I looked at the trees and the rocks and the hills and I could see the personality in those forms, metamorphosing into faeries, goblins, trolls, and other nature spirits.

"After Alan and I published Faeries, he moved on from folklore to illustrate Tolkien and other literary works -- but I discovered that my own exploration of the Faerie Realm had only just begun. The faeries kept insisting on taking form under my pencil, emerging on the page before me, cloaked in archetypal shapes drawn from nature and myth. I'd attracted their attention, and they hadn't finished with me yet.

The Faery Who Was Kissed by the Piskies by Brian Froud

"I'm often called a 'fantasy' painter, " Brian notes, "but that's not quite accurate. My imagery comes from myth, folklore and the old oral story-telling tradition, not from fantasy literature; and although I did some commercial illustration in my youth, I don't see myself as an illustrator now. I publish books, but the paintings in them are personal visions and expressions, not illustrations of someone else's story. The pictures come first, and the text responds to the pictures, not the other way around. I have to confess that, unlike Wendy, I rarely read fiction at all. Most of my reading is nonfiction: history, mythology, archetypal psychology, and the like. I prefer the enchantment of a story told to one that is written down. In the oral tradition, where stories are told around the fireplace in semi-darkness, the words are alive: they leave the lips, enter into the air, and before they fall onto your ear they transform themselves into magic. They're not fixed; they change from telling to telling, and from listener to listener.

The Lady & the Unicorn and The King's Knight by Brian Froud

"I want my pictures to have that same quality of mutability. I don't like things to be fixed too solidly or explained too fully; I want each viewing to be like a re-telling of a tale, full of new possibilities. Back in my illustration days, I worked on a book called The Wind Between the Stars, and that was an interesting technical challenge, for how does one draw the wind? The work I do today still has that sort of challenge: drawing things that are normally beyond human perception, turning the invisible world of Faerie into visible form. Myth surrounds us every day, particularly in a landscape as soaked in history and old stories as Dartmoor. If I do my job well, not only does myth become visible within a painting, but that painting becomes a doorway into a new way of looking at the world. You turn and look at the land around you, and you begin to see the faces in the trees and faeries flitting through the shadows."

Faeries and piskies by Brian Froud

It is clear that his work gives Brian great satisfaction, but I've also seen him struggle with his art. What, I ask, is the most difficult thing about rendering his vision of the world and its magical spirit in paint?

Brian ponders the question, then answers slowly, "The hardest part -- or one of the hardest parts, because there are many hard parts -- is convincing the viewer that what I've depicted is true; that I've got it right. When Cocteau was making his classic film Beauty & the Beast, he was reaching for what he called 'the supernatural within realism' -- in other words, grounding fantastical elements with ordinary imagery, which gives plausibility to the first and enchantment to the second. I think this is important to mythic art no matter what the medium: painting, writing, filmmaking. You need realism as an underpinning, an anchor, for the magic.

The Owl Faery by Brian Froud

"In order to obtain the 'supernatural within realism,' I usually start my larger, complex paintings with a human image," he explains. "The familiarity of the human form provides a touchstone and a reference; and then as we continue on in our journey around the picture, encountering stranger and stranger imagery, we have confidence that these faeries look just as they're supposed to look. We know that the distortions in their forms or faces are deliberate, not just a stylistic aberration or bad drawing. Every distortion in my paintings actually has a precise meaning behind it. In traditional lore, one often finds that faeries have some striking defect of form: some are hollow-backed or elongated, others have goat- or lion-feet. Heads, hands, and feet are often large in proportion to the rest of the body. This is due to the plastic nature of faery forms, which are often glimpsed in states of transition from one shape to the next.

Sketchbook drawings Brian Froud

"I start each painting by drawing a geometrical grid based on the Golden Section, a system of proportions and perspective developed by the ancient Greeks. The grid is overlaid with circles, triangles and the like, and where these things cross over is where I place the major figures. This gives the 'chaos' of a crowded painting an underlying structure of order. The central human figure is generally based on a photograph -- again, this provides an  Woodling by Brian Froudunderpinning of reality for the more fantastical aspects. I take my own photographs of models: friends and neighbors generally. The imagery surrounding the central figure is always in relationship to it. These secondary creatures are often drawn from earlier sketches -- I have many, many sketchbooks filled with such things.

"I always try to keep the drawing fairly loose; I don't like to get tight at this stage, which closes down possibilities. And even in the final stages of a painting I strive to maintain a looseness and a sense of...mystery. I find that in the fantasy genre, too many young painters over-paint their pictures; they're a bit too...over-wrought for my taste. They're much too bright and shiny. The artist has finished every detail, and every edge is hard and bright -- which doesn't allow me into their world, my eye slides right off that shiny surface. I prefer to keep my rendering as loose as possible, just on the edge of being finished. I want a painting to give just enough information for the picture to make sense; there should always be a little bit kept back, a few pieces missing, which the viewer must supply himself. In doing that, the picture comes to life. It becomes part of a reciprocal process, a communication. The painting allows you inside, where it can grow, and you can grow."

Wood Woman by Brian Froud

Despite the world-wide success of Faeries, and the huge acclaim he received for the Henson films, it often astonishes Brian's fans to know that it took him over ten years to find a publisher for his subsequent work.

"There were times when I thought I was mad to continue painting faeries," he recalls. "But I was driven to do it. I had a vision and I couldn't seem to let it go. So I said to myself: What do I have to do to convince a publisher that there's an audience for this art? I decided a humorous approach might open the door; it might perhaps be less intimidating. That's when the idea for Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book came to mind."

A ''pressed fairy'' by Brian Froud

This volume tells the story a Victorian young lady who "presses" fairies between book pages, much as her compatriots pressed and collected flowers. With art by Brian and text by Terry Jones (of Monthy Python fame), the book is utterly hilarious...and, like Faeries, it was a best-seller. To Brian's relief he had finally proved there was indeed an audience for his art.

More books in the Cottington series followed: Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Letters, Lady Cottington's Fairy Album, Strange Staines & Mysterious Smells, and, most recently, The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington. The latest volume was written by Wendy, as fine an author as she is a sculptor, telling the story of this mad, faery-hunting family from Victorian times to the present. (Go here to see the book trailer video, by Toby Froud. Artist Virginia Lee plays Angelica Cottington, the original fairy hunter in the family, and my husband, Howard, plays her twin brother Quentin, a mad inventor.)

Angelica & Madeline Cottington

The success of the "pressed fairies" allowed Brian to publish his other paintings of the Faerie Realm, collected in books such as Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, The Runes of Elfland, and Brian Froud's World of Faerie, a sumptuous overview of his art. Although less whimsical than the Cottington series, these volumes also have their humorous side. "Just like the old faery lore," he notes, "moving back and forth between between light and shadow."

Meanwhile, Wendy was creating art for exhibition, teaching, writing, and publishing magical books of her own: the Old Oak Wood series for children  (A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale, The Winter, The Faeries of Spring Cottage), and The Art of Wendy Froud.

Behind the scenes, she was also involved with Brian's publications, sometimes editing or ghost-writing the text. This evolved into full collaboration between the two artists in Trolls and Faeries' Tales, gorgeous editions designed by Brian, written by Wendy, and featuring art by both.

Trolls by Brian Froud

Three sculptures by Wendy Froud

Troll by Wendy Froud

More recently,  the two of them had a busy year going back and forth to a film studio near Windsor to work on The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance, a tour-de-force of the puppetry art. Their son Toby, all grown up and a film puppeteer and director himself, was the Design Supervisor for The Age of Resistance, making sure the aesthetic vision of the original film was faithfully translated to the new series.

Since then, other television and stage projects have been afoot, slowed down by the Covid-19 pandemic but still moving forward. Brian and Wendy spent the months of lockdown at home on Dartmoor, enjoying a rare pause in their lives and engaged, as always, with the land, its spirits, and the stories in the world around them.

The Dark Crystal television series

As our discussion ends, Brian sits back and reflects on his long journey with the faeries:

"After all these years of drawing, painting, and sculpting them, Wendy and I are often asked if we 'believe' in faeries. The best answer I can give is that I don't have much of a choice in whether I believe in them or not, for they seem to insist on my painting them. I paint by intuition, and faeries keep appearing on the page before me. Mind you, it's not that I lie around on a chaise longue waiting for inspiration to strike -- painting is a discipline and I'm in my studio working a regular work day from 9 to 5. But on a Monday morning I'm often not sure what exactly I'm going to be doing next. I'll get out my tools, I'll get to work, and something will demand to come through -- some creature will form on the page before me, demanding to say: Hello!"

Light Faery by Brian Froud

"Faeries are spirits of nature," notes Wendy. "They embody the wild, mysterious and spiritual forces to be found in nature, and help us to reconnect with wonder and mystery inside our own souls. Our ancestors passed these stories and images down for hundreds, thousands of years. As artists, Brian and I are merely part of a long tradition -- giving old tales new life and passing them on to the generations to come. I look at my sculptures as signposts or gateways into the realm of Faerie. I like to think that they can help people find their own way into that realm."

Faery by Wendy Froud

"Traditional cultures have always recognized and honored the animate spirits of the earth," Brian adds, "but in western culture we've rather left that behind...to our spiritual cost, and ecological peril. Now we're beginning to recognize how important it is to have a vibrant relationship with the land beneath our feet...and that the old stories and mythic imagery can aid this process."

"In other words," says Wendy with a smile, "we need the faeries, especially now. So Brian and I will keep telling their stories, for as long as they want us to."

Wendy & Brian Froud

Green Woman by Brian Froud

The paintings, drawings, sculptures, & photographs above are under copright by Brian & Wendy Froud, and may not be reproduced without their permission; all rights are reserved by the artists. The title of each artwork can be found in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.)

The sídhe and the sìth

Looking into the Fairy Hill by Alan Lee

I'm focused on The Summer Isles by Philip Marsden this week, which I highly recommend seeking out. In the following passage, Marsden is en route from the northern tip of Ireland to the wild west coast of Scotland. He writes:

"The north and west of Ireland and the west of Scotland share a similar history, language, and ethnicity....Comparable too is the geology. The 'Dalradian Supergroup' is not a Glaswegian rock band but a band of rock, 'a metasedimentary and igneous rock succession that was deposited on the eastern margin of Laurentia between the late Neoproterozoic and Early Cambrian'. Right. It makes up a large part of the defining features of both Ireland and western Scotland, the same mountains, the same high sea-cliffs, the same curiosities (Giant's Causeway in Antrim, Fingal's Cave off Mull), the same peaks and open moor, the same islets and reefs, the same sense of a primal clash between rock and ocean. And it is that backdrop -- the gritty topography, the fractured shoreline, that has helped sustain the coastline's metaphysics, helped generate the wilder projections of outsiders and inhabitants alike, phantom islands from beyond its headlands, otherworlds from beneath its turf.

"In Ireland, they are sídhe, in Scotland, sìth -- each is pronounced the same: 'shee'. The fairy population share a folk DNA, as the human ones do. The definition of the Scottish folklorist John Gregorson Campbell covers them both: 'The Fairies, according to the Scoto-Celtic belief, are a race of beings, the counterparts of mankind in person, occupations and pleasures, but unsubstantial and unreal, ordinarily invisible, noiseless in their motions, and having their dwellings underground, in hills and green mounds of rock or earth.'

Fairies by Alan Lee

"In a piece published in the Scots Observer in 1899, W.B. Yeats noted how prevalent the 'fairy belief' remained in both countries. Over the years, though, the sídhe and the sìth had diverged. The Irish once, he claimed, were much better, or at least rather nicer: 'For their gay and graceful doings you must go to Ireland, for their deeds of terror to Scotland.' He cited the Scottish tale of a child cutting turf. The child is struggling, until a hand is pushed up out of the bog with a sharp knife. The child's brothers respond by slicing off the hand with the knife. Yeats claimed that would never happen in Ireland, where 'there is something of timid affection between men and spirits'. In Scotland, he claimed, an innate mistrust existed of that unseen world: 'You have made the Darkness your enemy...you have discovered the fairies to be pagan and wicked. You would like to have them all before the magistrate.'

Fairy Woman by Alan Lee"As for the islands, the western coast of Scotland frays into many more actual islands than that of Ireland, but fewer imaginary ones. One tale that is found, though, in several versions in the Hebrides begins with a man in boat, lost in a fog. He comes across an unknown island, and landing on it, he meets a woman. He stays with her, they have children. After many years on the island, he goes back to his former life. One day when he is old and blind, the man is brought a fish that no one can identify. Fingering it, he recognizes its shape. He asks to be taken out to the waters where it was caught, and there is the island. He is put ashore, and he and the island disappear.

"It is a simple and beautiful story, and one that challenge's Yeats's partisan point. Many aspects of fairy belief do not stand up to any kind of literal scrutiny: little people living in holes in the ground, stealing the substance of people, or changing them into animals. But behind them lies a more persistent thought -- common not just to the closely related fairies of Ireland and Scotland but to belief worldwide: that other versions of our own life exist. They could be in the past, in the future, or in the never-never. They might be over the horizon, or on an imaginary island. But at one time or another, we will go looking for them. Perhaps we're always looking. "

The Scribe by Alan Lee

The art today is by my friend and village neighbour Alan Lee, recipient of the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration, the Academy Award for film design, and many other honours. Some of the images above are from his classic book Faeries (with Brian Froud); other drawings are from Alan's private collection. To learn more about the wider range of his exquisite work, go here.

The Fairy Court by Alan Lee

The Summer Isles by Philip Marsden

Words & Pictures: The passage above is from The Summer Isles: A Voyage of the Imagination by Philip Marsden (Granta, 2019). The artwork is by Alan Lee. All rights to the text and art above reserved by the author and artist.

Further reading: For more information on fairy lore, "Fairies in Legend, Lore, and Literature" and "Tales of Fairy Changelings."

The stuff that dreams are made of

Dragon by Arthur Rackham

Today, one last passage passage from Jane Yolen's seminal book Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Chilhood, which no folklore library should be without. The art, of course, is by the great Golden Age book illustrator Arthur Rackham.

"Though we are just now finding out that the dinosaur was probably a warm-blooded beast and not the cold-blooded lizard of the textbooks," Jane writes, "we have never been in doubt about dragons. We know, even without being told, that they were born, nourished, kept alive by human blood and heart and mind. They never were -- but always will be. It was Kenneth Grahaeme who wrote: 'The dragon is a more enduring animal than a pterodactyl. I have never yet met anyone who really believed in pterodactyls; but every honest person believes in dragons -- down in the back-kitchen of his consciousness.'

"Dragons and pterodactyls, actuality has nothing to do with Truth.

Fafnir and Sigurd by Arthur Rackham

"Throughout the 19th century, there was a great deal of speculation about fairies. One group of anthropologists and folklorists held that there really had been a race of diminutive prehistoric people who had been driven underground by successive invasions. These 'little folk,' who were really the size of pygmies, supposedly lived for years in communities in caves and burrows, in warrens and tunnels and in the deepest, darkest parts of the forest where, in brown-and-green camoflage, they stayed apart from their enemies. Kidnappings and mysterious disappearances were all attributed to them. These hardy guerrillas of a defeated culture became, in the folk mind, the elves and gnomes and trolls of the British Isles. There were even archeologists wo were convinced they had discovered rooms underground in the Orkney Islands that resembled the Elfland in the popular ballad Child Rowland. (And, similarly, other folk stories might have emerged by a misunderstanding of the weirs and dikes used by the Romans for their household baths.)

Fairies at work by Arthur Rackham

Three fairy paintings by Arthur Rackham

"It is a very seductive thesis, but it really begs the question. For even if we do conclusively prove that the Picts or Celts or some other smaller-than-average race are the actual precursors of the fairy folk, it will not really change a thing about those wonderful stories. The tales of Elfland do not stand or fall on their actuality but on their truthfulness, their speaking to the human condition, the longings we have for the Faerie Other. Those are the tales that touch our longing for the better, brighter world; our shared myths, our shaped dreams. The fears and longings within each of us that helped us create Heaven and Elysium, Valhalla and Tir nan og.

Fairies on a romp by Arthur Rackham

"This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Not the smaller dreams that you and I have each night, rehearsals of things to come, anticipation or dread turned into murky symbols, pastiches of traumas just passed. These are the larger dreams of humankind, a patchwork of all the smaller dreams stitched together by time.

The fairies under Kensington Gardens by Arthur Rackham

"The best of the stories we can give our children, whether they are stories that have been kept alive through the centuries by that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation we call oral transmission, or the tales that were made up only yesterday -- the best of these stories touch that larger dream, that greater vision, that infinite unknowing. They are the most potent kind of magic, these tales, for they catch a glimpse of the soul beneath the skin."

Fairies in Kensington Garden by Arthur Rackham

Words: The passage above is from the title esssay in Touch Magic by Jane Yolen (Philomel, 2981; August House, 2000). The poem in the picture captions, also by Jane, was first published in The National Storytelling Journal (Winter 1987). All rights to the text and art are reserved by the author and the Rackham estate.

Related reading: Jane Yolen on children and tough magic, Alison Hawthorne Deming on dragons, and me on fairies in legend, lore, and literature.