A physicist loose among the liberal arts

Faërie: What could go wrong?

Fairies By Ashtea

I tried to find a list of the perils of Faërie on line, and failed. It’s a tricky thing, to search for fairies on the world-wide web. All the traditional uses of the term get drowned out by gamers and manga artists. Staying on Google Scholar is highly recommended, unless I should ever decide to write about the contemporary cultural reception of the old legends.

So I decided to make one myself. Here’s what I’ve come up with. Please suggest additions.

1. Abduction

This could be the most common misfortune that Faërie can bring. It comes in two varieties: those in which the victim knows she’s been abducted (e.g. Sir Orfeo, changelings); and those in which he does not know, but finds out when they leave Faërie and discover that a long time has passed. (e.g. Samwise in Lothlorien)

2. Preposterous disfigurement

An encounter with fairies might lead to one’s head being replaced with that of an ass (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), or being adorned with antlers.

3. Theft

Fairies steal small things from around the house. They also steal less tangible things, such as your shadow, or your voice, or your eye color.

4. Unrequitable passion

Fairy glamor can leave the victim overwhelmed, whether by love for a fay him/her/itself, or for the taste of fairy wine or food, or the beauty of fairy-lands forlorn. Possibly the most traumatic of the perils of Faërie, because if left untreated it can cause Romanticism. (Ode to a Nightingale)

5. Swindling

Many fairy-curses can land on their victim for no reason at all, but swindling usually comes to people who were asking for it. A bag of fairy-gold that turns into sand the next morning is not only a fair reward for greed, it’s a metaphor we can use every election season.

6. Murphy’s Law-Enforcement

When mortals doesn’t reward their domestic fairies (brownies, silkies) for their service, they’ll turn into boggarts. Then the cow gives buttermilk, the hens won’t lay, objects go missing, machines go haywire, and poltergeists run loose in the house.

My source for the not-otherwise-attributed parts above is one of the most delightful papers I’ve ever read in a scholarly journal.

Sanderson, Stewart. “A Prospect of Fairyland.” Folklore 75.1 (1964): 1-18.


Origami with Quotes


Fairy Perils in the Mundane World


  1. Tara

    Time slippage comes to mind, as with Rip Van Winkle.

  2. Thanks for this, Joe, and for the article you cited.

  3. Oh, excellent stuff! And a very merry Christmas all through to its 12th night and blessings beyond.
    Surely the self-regard of modernity means that the activities of Faerie are little noticed. That is both sad and unwise too. As you say, we tend to be fooled by the same swindling promises time and again just as were the recipients of fairy gold in times gone by.

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