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Mythology and Folklore

Fairy and Fairy Tales

Irish Fairy Tales, fairy rings, nixies, Charles Perrault, Gandharvas

Fairy and Fairy Tale, in folklore, a diminutive supernatural creature, generally in human form, dwelling in an imaginary region called fairyland; and the stories of its interventions through magic in mortal affairs. The term fairy is also loosely applied to such beings as brownies, gnomes, elves, nixies, goblins, trolls, dwarfs, pixies, kobolds, banshees, sylphs, sprites, and undines. The folk imagination not only conceives of fairyland as a distinct domain, but also imagines fairies as living in everyday surroundings such as hills, trees, and streams and sees fairy rings, fairy tables, and fairy steeds in natural objects.

The belief in fairies was an almost universal attribute of early folk culture. In ancient Greek literature the sirens in Homer's Odyssey are fairies, and a number of the heroes in his Iliad have fairy lovers in the form of nymphs. The Gandharvas (celestial singers and musicians), who figure in Sanskrit poetry, were fairies, as were the Hathors, or female genii, of ancient Egypt, who appeared at the birth of a child and predicted the child's future.

The traditional characteristics of fairies are depicted in European literature in such works as Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet (in Mercutio's “Queen Mab” speech); The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser; L'Allegro and Comus by John Milton; Contes de ma mere l'oye, known in English as Tales of Mother Goose, by Charles Perrault; Kinder-und Hausmarchen, known in English as Grimm's Fairy Tales, by the brothers Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm and Wilhelm Karl Grimm; a fairy-tale series by Andrew Lang, for example, The Blue Fairy Tale Book and The Red Fairy Tale Book; and representative collections of Irish stories such as Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker and Irish Fairy Tales by William Butler Yeats. Croker has described fairies as being “a few inches high, airy and almost transparent in body; so delicate in their form that a dewdrop, when they chance to dance on it, trembles, indeed, but never breaks.” In folklore fairies are generally considered beneficent toward humans. They are sensitive and capricious, however, and often inclined to play pranks; so if their resentment is not to be aroused, they must be spoken well of and always treated with deference. Bad fairies are thought to be responsible for such misfortunes as the bewitching of children, the substitution of ugly fairy babies, known as changelings, for human infants, and the sudden death of cattle.



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