And thanks for your question. I write Fantasy fiction, so I thought
I'd take a stab at one possible answer for you.
Here's a quote from a beautiful site on "The Fairy Faith" (with
accompanying VHS Video documentary)
( http://www.thefairyfaith.com/links01.html )
"Fairies are so prevalent in mythical culture that it's natural to
wonder where they came from. Different societies have come up with
very different explanations of the origins of 'the little people'.
"The Irish believe that the fairies are a previously conquered
society, the Tuatha De Danaan (People of the Goddess Dana), who were
driven into hiding when the Celts invaded Ireland. The Pagan gods of
the Tuatha, skilled in building and magic, went underground to live in
the tombs and mounds they had built. Hidden from sight, they grew
smaller in the popular imagination until they turned into fairies.
"Other cultures believe that fairies are the souls of the dead, people
not good enough to enter Heaven yet not bad enough for Hell. They
wander the Netherland in between and are occasionally seen by humans.
Along a similar theme, fairies are also believed to be angels that had
been cast out of Heaven. Some fell into the sea and some onto the
land, where they would do no harm if left alone.
"In Wales, fairies are thought to be a race of invisible spiritual
beings living in a world of their own. Some people also believe that
fairies were originally local gods or nature spirits that dwindled in
majesty and size over time.
So you can see, opinions are divided as to where they came from in the
first place. The site at Faerie Central ( http://faerie.monstrous.com/
) has a good run down of the different types of fairy in different
Diane Purkiss, in her book "Troublesome Things - A History of Fairies
and Fairy Stories" (ALLEN LANE THE PENGUIN PRESS, Hb £20, pp354,
ISBN 0-713-99312-X) has a different take on it. Here are a couple of
quotes from a Fortean Times review of the book (
"....makes a case for the harbingers of birth, marriage and death of
ancient Greek and Mesopotamian cultures as the dangerous visitors that
our idea of fairies grew from. The stillborn ghosts named Kubu, the
childless Lamia that turns her loneliness to hunger and the Nymphs who
would keep a boy ever young and in (a) paradise if he were to stay
with her forever, never living his own life.
"Fairies are tricky types to pin down and they next appear in medieval
stories then onto two specific cases during the Scottish witch trials
in the 16th and 17th centuries that continue to carry the weighty
power of the taboos that fairies are used describe. The Good People
are then absorbed into literature, the most famous example being, of
course, A Midsummer Night's Dream
And they were still being seen, at least in the last century:
Here's a quote from "Fairies Pixies and Gnomes" from the "Mysterious
Britain" site ( http://www.uktouristinfo.com/fairies.htm )
"The most controversial and well-known episode in British history
involving fairies was the case of the Cottingley fairies in West
Yorkshire in the north of England. Two young girls claimed to have
taken photographs of fairies in the glen at Cottingley. Even though
they later admitted to have faked the photographs to convince the
adults, they still continued to claim that they had actually seen the
fairies. The Cottingley Fairies were the subject of a recent feature
film. It has recently been discovered that the original photographs
were tampered with before they were released to the press and the idea
that the Cottingley photographs may be fakes has been greeted with
relief by the skeptics! However...
- In 1964 several children in Liverpool, Merseyside saw 'little green
men in white hats throwing stones and tiny clods of earth at one
another on the bowling green.
- The Isle of Man is traditionally inhabited by little people, in 1911
a 'great crowd of little beings' dressed in red and marching was seen.
- In 1979 four children in Nottingham claimed to have seen about 60
little people driving around over the swamps near the lake in little
red and white bubble cars.
- A similar incident involving only one little man was reported in
Kilhampton, Cornwall in 1940.
- There have even been reports of a tiny pilot (Hertford, 1912) and a
ship in the clouds carrying a number of dwarf-like people in St
Merryn, Cornwall at the turn of the 20th Century.
- A 'faery boat' was seen on the sea off the island of Muck, Highlands
For almost as long as people have been seeing fairies, people have
been writing about them. The countries of the world have a wide
variety of myths and legends, but the "little people" crop up in a
great many of them. Into more modern times, we have Spenser's "The
Fairie Queen", and Shakespeare's "A Midsummers Night's Dream" in
Elizabethan times, both of which did much to cement the modern
conception of what a "fairy" is.
On to Victorian times, and works like "Peter Pan" did more, bringing
Tinkerbell to mind as almost an "idealised" view of what a fairy is.
With the huge expansion of the Fantasy fiction market since Tolkein's
"Lord of the Rings" (whose elves are a fine example of a fairy people)
fairies have moved into the fantasy fiction mainstream. You'll find
many examples of fairy fantasy fiction over at
Fearie literature ( http://members.fortunecity.com/mighty39/litframe.html?http%3A//members.fortunecity.com/mighty39/literature.html
One of my personal favourite books on the subject makes a case for
fairies being part of a "fantasy" reality that we need build to help
us make sense of the world ( Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the
Otherworld by Patrick Harpur
Hardcover, Published by Pine Winds, Publication date: 2003 ISBN:
Here's a quote from a good review at (
"Harpurs thesis is that all of these events are manifestations of the
Otherworld (also known as the Collective Unconscious, Soul of the
World, or Anima Mundi). They are not literally real. We will never
actually capture unequivocal evidence that any of these entities
exist. However, they are daimonically real. If you try to deny the
existence of the Otherworld, it will simply find other ways to express
itself. It is a real thing that we sense in other ways besides the
physical senses. In fact, according to Harpur, the recent plethora of
Skeptical opinions in the press may actually be causing the Otherworld
to produce more tangible signs such as crop circles..."
In others words, if fairies weren't real, it would be neccessary to
invent them :)
Hope that covers everything. If not just ask.
Google search terms used
Clarification of Answer by
11 May 2003 01:43 PDT
While there are various explanations of the origins of fairies and the
nature of them and their lands, there is little explanation in any
studies of where the modern conception of fairies has come from.
None of the books suggest that fairies have wings like dragonflies or
butterflies. The wee-folk of Celtic mythology are generally thought to
be the size of small children or dwarfs, rather than the size of
insects as they are thought of today.They also tend to be suitably
disproportionate, like chunky hobbits or dwarfs rather than the tiny
but perfect adult fairies in modern storybooks.
It is likely that these modern depictions of fairies sprang more from
the minds of individual humans than any specific culture or mythology.
A wide variety of cultures believe in fairies similar to the Celtic
version, and some cultures see fairies as the animistic spirits of
nature. None of these fairies bear much resemblance to the modern
fairies and if they had wings, it is a detail that is usually left
out. Spencers fairies were like the Celtic version, Shakespeares
were like a combination of tall elegant elves and the wee-folk, but it
was not until the Victorian era that fairies were established as
little winged beings.
Thomas Croker (1789-1854) in his collection of Irish Fairy Tales,
described fairies as being "a few inches high, airy and almost
transparent in body; so delicate in their form that a dew drop, when
they chance to dance on it, trembles, indeed, but never breaks." As I
mentioned earlier, one of the first of these "delicate" fairies to
impinge on popular consciousness was probably Tinkerbell in J.M.
Barries Peter Pan. Around that time, there was also a large amount of
sentimental art, creating cutesy portrayals of fairies and cherubs.
There was also a large fuss made about the fairy photographs taken by
two young girls in England at Cottingsley. These photographs sparked a
world-wide debate that did much to "fix" the image of the small,
winged, fairy in the public mind, and if you ask any group of people,
there'll no doubt be someone who remembers seeing the pictures at some
time. The Victorians had a soft spot for the "cute", and I think that
much of the modern conception of the little delicate, insect size
fairy came from them.
Disney also has a part to play from the 1950s onward, pushing the
sanitised Tinkerbell as a sort of happy go-lucky nature sprite, making
fairies happy and unthreatening, reinforced even more by having Julia
Roberts play her in the live action version. From these images people
have come to see fairies as a happy, positive, image... a far cry from
the baby-stealing wee folk of Celtic mythology from which they