Fascination With Faeries

Faeries (also spelled fairies) have been popular characters in folk and fairy tales (obviously!) worldwide for centuries. What is interesting is how they are enjoying a modern revival. Faeries in art, stories, movies and various knickknacks and accessories are rampant. Why is this?

Movies such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which the magical race of elves plays a key role, have helped this renewed interest in the Little People (who include faeries, elves, pixies, leprechauns, sprites and various other folk). The popularity of things fae also overlaps with the renaissance of Celtic music, as faeries are probably better known in Ireland and other Celtic lands than anywhere else.

In general, however, I think it has to do with the mysterious, romantic and magical nature of these beings. In a world dominated by commerce and technology, there is a need to be reminded of other, less mundane aspects of life. Faeries evoke and represent the world of our imagination, which is why they are often depicted in the arts.

The supernatural has always been popular in stories, novels and movies. In most cases, however, supernatural creatures, whether ghosts, demons or undead killers, are frightening and often outright evil. Faeries, at least traditionally, are more ambiguous -neither purely good nor evil. They can be kind, but also tricky and sometimes vindictive. The worst tales about faeries are probably those that involve them stealing human babies and replacing them with one of their own.

For the most part, faeries seem mostly indifferent to human ideas about right and wrong. This probably is what caused some Christian theologians to say that faeries inhabit neither heaven nor hell, but purgatory. In some tales, humans are lured into their kingdom and emerge what turns out to be centuries later in human time. There is no indication in these stories that the faeries mean any harm. But neither are they particularly concerned about the troubles they cause in the human world.

The basically amoral nature of faeries is consistent with their presence in the arts and imagination of humans. What I mean by this is that the arts depict things that are new, creative, different and usually interesting, but not necessarily “good” as conventionally defined. This is why strict moral authorities often try to suppress the arts. Faeries can be seen as creatures that inhabit the same realm as the arts.

One of the most interesting questions about faeries, and also one that is hard to answer, is whether or not they really exist. Many claim to have seen them. Others see them as inhabiting “only” a nether-world of our dreams and imagination. While they certainly do inhabit the world of the imagination, there are many accounts of them interacting with our own world as well. And who is to say where the dividing line is between the two?