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.
fairy is also loosely applied to such beings as brownies,
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.
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
(see also my Egypt
Chapter), who appeared at the birth of a child and predicted
the child's future.
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 mère l'oye, known in English as Tales of Mother
Goose, by Charles
Perrault; Kinder-und Hausmärchen, 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."
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.
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
and Fairy Tale," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001
© 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.