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Funny Fairy Stories August 23, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

Beachcombing wants to start this post with an apology. He has been writing madly on fairies the last few days, hoping to get some ‘real’ work done before term begins and while Mrs B and the kids are away at the sea. The result is that he has not had time to deal with emails or put up comments. Well, life is now returning to normal… But he must ask first, a great favour of his readers. He has four articles he’s not been able to get his dirty electric fingers on. They are at the end of this post: if anyone can get them to Beach they will be immortalized in a soon to be appearing article or book: ‘Thanks to…’ etc

As to the fairy madness his studies have been serious – or as serious as half an hour of a study a day will allow. However, he has been disappointed to learn how unseriously some nineteenth-century narrators of the fairy faith took their subject matter.  One reflex of a rather judgmental tone in nineteenth-century fairy reports is the occasional snide anecdote that sneaks into the press and books. The whole point of these funny fairy tales is, of course, to mock the hopeless yokel, while shouting out – apologies J.M.Barrie –‘I don’t believe in fairies!’ at fifty decibels. If the Victorians and Edwardians killed fairies with kindness, producing those nauseating books about ‘Johnny’s friend the Brownie’ etc etc, they also laughed the few representatives from the deep west off the stage with spite and wit. Nevertheless some of these anecdotes are amusing in their own right and as they are an important part of the ‘culture of disbelief’ Beachcombing has decided to bring a few examples together, one from each major part of the fairy Celtic fringe – apologies to Brittany and Cornwall. He hopes his readers will get as big a kick out of them as he did and for tyros, remember that fairies – at least gaelic fairies – dress in green.

1)  Fairies in Belfast! ‘Yes, indeed. In Belfast – in this utilitarian town of ours, as well as in those German cities and villages where the bright mythology carried from Arabia by the Crusaders still lives in the popular belief, is to be found a lingering recollection of the beautiful little people in whom many of our grandmothers believed so steadfastly. In one of the crowded streets of small houses with which Belfast abounds an incident occurred the other evening, which, for the nonce, transports us to the ‘hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,’ once sacred to the elves. A woman had gone out of her house, leaving it in charge of a child, who, in turn, went out, locking the door after her. After sundown, a neighbour passing happened to look in and saw – a fairy. Looking again, she saw an ample ring of them, the Queen – the veritable Empress Mab it must have been – sitting in the centre, dressed in the most brilliant green, and attended by little Hop and Mop and Drop and Pip and Skip and Gill and Tit and Nit and all the rest of the tiny and beautiful maids of honour. In a while, she brought another woman to look, and, in the gloaming, this new spectator certainly saw one, which was quite enough to confirm her friend’s revelation, since she knew that fairies had the power of making themselves invisible, and could get through any enclosure. Good gracious! She had a fine baby at home, and perhaps they were gone to steal it, and leave instead thereof one of their own mischevious little vixens. And off she hurried, for her mother – peace to her ashes! – had often told her of a good woman whose lovely child was stolen in the same way. A crowd gathered, and, as the shades of evening began to deepen, the conviction deepened too that all was not right. To heighten the alarm, it was whispered that the good woman had left one of her little girls in the house. What had become of her? Few dared to speculate, for the fairies were present, though unseen, and could hear what was said of them. In a remote country district we have actually heard the peasantry speak with bated breath about the exploits of these airy creatures in the belief that an incautious word would be avenged. But if the townspeople dared not to speak ill of them, they would do ill by deputy. In a trice a messenger was away for the police. In due course came the men in green, but not the delightful green which gives such fitting relief to the beautiful complexions of the fairies. The police actually looked in through the key hole, and saw the suggestion of one tiny being, the rest having perchance gone off one dew drops, pressed into their service, to their dwellings in the caves whose entrance overlooks the town. There was evidently something wrong. The house was haunted and the people about were indebted entirely to their numbers for keeping each other in countenance and courage. At the supreme moment, up came the good man of the house and his fugitive little daughter, who had gone to meet him. The door was timidly opened, for he thought there was surely something in all the stir. Imagine the disgust of the expectant crowd when a doll turned out to be the prolific fairy. It was handsomely dressed in green, having been presented on St Patrick’s Day to the little girl. Still there is always some water where the stirk drowned and it is clear there must be something wrong with the house – at least such is the opinion of the more credulous of the recently affrighted neighbours, who hare not likely soon to forget this fairy tale of fact.’

2) The Queen of the Fairies in Scotland. ‘The late Duchess of Gordon, taking an airing alone in the her carriage, in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands, observed at some distance from the road a neat cottage surrounded by a garden. Her grace pulled the check-string, and desired the servants to go round with the carriage to a place where she desired them to stop, while she crossed the moor to pay the cottage a visit. The duchess happened to wear a green pelisse trimmed with gold lace, and her hat was ornamented with golden spangles. A girl about twelve years old, the only person in the cottage, was spinning at the wheel and singing a merry strain. As soon as her eyes caught the figure of the duchess approaching, the green dress, the shining appearance of the hat, on which the sun shone, the singularity of such a visitant in so lonely a situation, all so worked on the imagination of the little girl, that she verily believed that the Queen of Fairies had come to reveal her some fearful mystery of fate. In great terror she escaped to a back closet, where, through a small aperture, she could see without being seen. The supposed Fairy Queen entered, surveyed the apartment with a curious eye, and then seeing the wheel, bethought herself of trying to spin. She gave the wheel several turns, but could not make a tolerable thread, though she twisted up all the carded wool she could find. As some compensation for any injury her awkwardness might have occasioned, her grace tied a crown piece in a handkerchief that lay upon the table fixed it to a spoke of the wheel, and departed. The girl could not summon courage to venture from her hiding place before her father and sister came in, nor till some time after could they extract from her an explanation of the extraordinary state of perturbation in which they found her. Their surprise was scarcely less than hers, when they were informed that somebody, who could be no other than the Queen of the Fairies, for she was all in green and gold, and shining bright as the sun, had come into the house, and seeing nobody there, had fallen to bewitching the wheel, which, as sure as fairies were fairies, would never go again. ‘And see’ continued the young enthusiast pointing to the handkerchief tied on the spoke ‘something which she had left.’ The father untied the handkerchief, and the sight of the sterling piece of coin which it contained, soon dispelled from his mind all suspicion as to the terrestrial attributes of the lady who had been honouring his cottage with a visit. The women of the cottage, however, were of a very different opinion. With them the lady could be no other than the Fairy Queen, who must doubtless have come to tell poor Isabel her fortune; the spoiled thread was a sign that the first days of her life would be marked with disappointment and sorrow; and the crown piece tied in a handkerchief to the spoke of the wheel, betokened that she would in the end arrive by honest industry at wealth and comfort. Harmless delusion. It lasted but for a day. Sunday came and the appearance of the Queen of the Fairies in the same dress at church as the Duchess of the manor convinced even Isabel that she had been deceived.’

3) Buggane on the Isle of Man. ‘Now, I shall tell you a ghost or buggane story in connection with this locality which was related to me by a man who was born in the neighbourhood; a story that, of course, is founded on facts which, we are given to understand, are very stubborn things. In the first place, let me inform the uninitiated in these matters that a buggane, as far as I can make out, is an immense fairy or sprite, whose nocturnal rambles are subjects of great dread to numbers of the peasantry, and whose immense height, together with the total want of a head, makes him, to say the least, an ugly customer. It appears that several years ago there lived an individual of very intemperate habits in the village of Glenmeay. Trudging home from the inn, after his evening’s debauch, he frequently met a buggane, and after such encounters you may be certain he would have something very wonderful to relate next day to his companions. At last he became notorious for his yarns in this respect. But now for the grand climax. Some man residing in Dalby, whose good lady was on the eve of her confinement, had to go one night to Glenmeay in a hurry for a midwife. He found her, and they both started to go back together to Dalby; but as she did not walk sufficiently fast to his liking, he, being a powerfully built fellow, made the following proposal, namely, that he should carry her the rest of the way but now that was quickly settled. The fair dame was quickly mounted on his shoulders, with a leg over each in fact, on his neck a la fourchette; and away they went until something tumbling about in a whin-bush arrested their attention, which evidently amused the good woman on the howdah; however they passed on. Now, for the sequel. Next day the hero of our anecdote told one of his best buggane stories how as he was going home on the previous evening he saw an immense buggane, about seven feet high; that he had to creep into a whin-bush to let it pass; and that, as it did so, it cackled, snuffled, and haw-hawed in an unearthly manner. The wonderful story soon reached the ears of the compound bugganes, who at once gave a very different description of the case. The parties in question knew the man, who they saw was intoxicated, tumbling about in the whin-bush, and the unearthly sounds which he heard were the hearty laughter of the good woman from her perch at his apparent fright and utter helplessness. I am further assured that since that he has never boasted of having seen another buggane.’

4) The King of the Fairies in North Wales: ‘The inmates of an upland farmhouse in a mountainous district close to the foot of Snowdon, were lately thrown into much confusion by the entrance of a little girl in a state of great alarm. She had seen, on the other side of a low all, the king of the fairies (brenhin y Tylwyth Teg), and he had spoken to her. This district had in former days been much frequented by these little people. An old woman, who was sitting on a bench in the chimney corner, asked the girl to describe the stranger, ‘He had a red cap on, and his nose was thin, red, crooked, and very long – he had on a tippet like those worn by some young ladies she had seen going to the top of Snowdon in the summer. She did not see his feet. She could understand what he said, but certainly did speak, and he shook his head at her when he did so’. Just at this time, ‘throll, throll, throll’ announced that his fairy majesty was at the door. The old woman declared the language to be identical with the fairy that had vanished about 55 years ago, being unintentionally touched with the bit of a bridle by her father near Clogwyn Coch, Fairies, she said, could not bear to be touched with iron. Just at this time, to the great consternation of the family, after another ‘throll, throll, throll’ speech, the door opened; and in walked a neighbouring farmer, followed instead of fairy royalty by a fine Turkey cock. None of these birds are either reared of kept within many miles of this farm, and no clue had been obtained as to where the strange visitor came from.’

Any other funny fairy tales of this kind? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

And now those articles: note all are in electronic databases but Beach has the misfortune to be associated with a humanities only institution. Another reason to hate doctors…

1) Roy Muir, ‘The Changeling Myth and pre-psychology of parenting’, British Journal of Medical Psychology 55 (1982), pp. 97-104

2) Carl Haffter, ‘the Changeling: History and psychodynames of attitudes to handicapped children in European folklore’ Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences 4 (1968) pp 55-61

3) Oscar Woods ‘Criminal Responsibility of the Insane’, Journal of Mental Science 60, 171 (October 1894), pp. 609-621

4) Oscar Woods ‘Notes of some cases of Folie a Deux in several members of the same family’ Journal of Mental Science 63, 183 (October 1897), pp. 822-825