Since mortals are beset by perils in Faërie , a decent respect for symmetry requires that fairies be threatened in our world as well. What perils might a fairy face? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a convenient list of reasons people end up in the emergency room, which seems like a good place to start. See Table I on the last page.
Probably Not Perils:
Falls are out of the question when one has wings. (Unless you’re a balrog.)
The next most common fate for mortals, but I don’t think fairies need to worry about being smashed on a windshield. Cars these days only have cold iron in the drive train and chassis. Fairies will probably just bounce off other parts of modern automobiles.
Besides, Sanderson reports that the Rev. Robert Kirk, in his seminal tome The Secret Common-wealth, “says the fairies’ bodies are invulnerable, unlike the earthly bodies of witches and were-wolves, which can be destroyed when their assumed astral bodies are elsewhere.” So we can rule out gunshots, drowning, poisoning, and all the other things on the CDC list. We shall have to look elsewhere.
Have you seen what fairies eat? https://www.shutterstock.com/search/fairy+cakes My teeth ache just from looking at the pictures. Sanderson also discusses the problem of fairy dietetics, and shows us that Rev. Kirk thinks they either live on corn (the high-fructose syrup, naturally) or they attach themselves to a human and parasitically obtain nutrients from their digestion. Their human partners are recognizable because they eat as much as they want all the time and never gain weight. (There’s a business opportunity here for an entrepreneurially-inclined Fairy King.) In Middle-earth, as in Sir Orfeo, Elves are near-exclusive carnivores. A diet of animal products and refined sugar means diabetes will be a constant threat.
This is a good place to talk about the exceptions that prove the rule. Galadriel (après Melian) is the only Fairy-Queen who ever gave anyone a vegetable to eat. I feel sure that the Wise were careful to avoid getting her started on the importance of eating whole grains and other complex carbohydrates. Goldberry, on the other hand, is the epitome of a cliché fairy vegetarian, but her status as a Queen is disputable.
“For in becoming the consort of a nature myth connected with the Moon Jurgen had of course exposed himself to the danger of being converted into a solar legend by the Philologists…” – J. B. Cabell, Jurgen.
A fairy who enters this world exposes itself to humanities scholarship. If it’s lucky, it ends up in a DeviantArt gallery that exposes it to countless contortions of form, aspect, and surroundings. These are the lucky fairies, because the fay-folk are nothing if not protean. They can take all of that in stride. Alas, a fairy who is unlucky becomes the subject of a treatise by a folklorist or philologist who proves that it’s something other than what it thought it was. Note that the term “humanities”, which seems so benevolent in most contexts, is explicitly exclusionary with regard to any fay thing.
Enrollment in a randomized, placebo-controlled, statistical study
This one is certainly every fairy’s worst nightmare. A meta-nightmare, if you like. What if all the mischief Robin Goodfellow could bring about wasn’t enough to produce a p-value greater than 0.05? Could any worse fate befall a fairy than to be declared “indistinguishable from random chance”?
But here I find an intriguing conjunction. Submitted for your consideration: Rev. Robert Kirk (1644-1692) was a Presbyterian minister and folklorist. He died under mysterious circumstances, consistent with being abducted by fairies. Rev. Thomas Bayes (1701-1761) was a Presbyterian minister and statistician. Bayes’s work is the foundation of Bayesian statistics, which renders obsolete p-values and hypothesis testing. Could these be related? Did the Presbyterian Church receive a ransom demand? That’s exactly the sort of thing fairies would try. Seeing no way to coexist with their most fearsome mundane-world menace, their only recourse was to overthrow that entire branch of mathematics. Unfortunately, Bayesian statistics are tremendously difficult to formulate and use. Only now, with the computational resources we have today, can it be used in practical applications. Three centuries later, the ransom finally paid, we can get Rev. Kirk back. Somebody go look in his church. If you see a ghostly figure near the baptismal font, throw an iron dirk over its head. That will break the imprisonment, and we can finally ask him all those questions his book raised.
I assure you, I didn’t make up nearly as much of this essay as you think I did.
Briggs, Katherine M. “The English Fairies.” Folklore68.1 (1957): 270-287.
Cabell, James Branch. Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice (1922) http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/8771/pg8771-images.html
Sanderson, Stewart. “A Prospect of Fairyland.” Folklore 75.1 (1964): 1-18.