From the Editor’s Desk
I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies,the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind.
— John Lennon
Summer –Autumn 2006
Welcome to our special Double Issue, devoted to fairies and other native spirits around the world. Fairies appear to be everywhere these days: on t-shirts,tea cups, and tattoo designs; in comics,films and fashion; in music both Celtic and classical;in art aimed at children and adults; and even on the New York Times Bestsellers List (in books by Susanna Clarkeand Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi.) I recently spent a weekend at the Beautiful Days music festival in Devon where quite a number of young women in the crowd (and a few big, hairy men too) wore fairy wings and pixie ears and could have stepped out of a Brian Froud painting.An entire booth in the market section of the festival was devoted to selling such gear.
The last surge of popular interest in fairies happened one hundred years ago when Victorian England went wild for the critters in poetry, prose, theater, ballet, music, art, and interior design. This was partially a reaction against the social upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, with fairies representing the rural traditions of a country that was rapidly urbanizing, while the landscapes that had long been their hauntsdisappeared as town and cities expanded. One hundred years later, as we cope with the rapid changes of our own Technological Revolution, the fairies are omnipresent once again. No matter what their shape — fluffy children’s toy sprite or the sly creatures of Susanna Clarke’s fiction — by their very nature and history the fairies connect us to the traditions of the rural past and the mysteries of the wilderness at the same time that these things vanish aroundus at greater and greater speeds.
Like many folklorists I meet today, my own interest in fairies was whetted by an art book published in the 1970s: Faeries by the English painters Brian Froud and Alan Lee. To those of us brought up on modern fairy images (diminutive sprites with butterfly wings and twinkling, wide–eyed Disney cartoons), Faeries came as a revelation. Here, in all their beautiful, horrible glory were the fairies of old British legends,undiluted by greeting card sentiment: gorgeous and grotesque (often at the same time), creatures of ivy, oak, and stone — born out of the British landscape, as potent, wild, and unpredictable as a force of nature. I was a college student at the time, studying literature, folklore and mythology — and little dreaming that, many years later, the creators of Faeries would be neighbors of mine in a small village in southwest England. Over the last ten years, I’ve had the privilege ofworking on a number of fairy books with Brian and his artist wife, Wendy. For the first of these, Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, one of my tasks was to research the various fairy traditions around the world. It was then that I realized how prevalent nature spirits are in cultures all over the globe — sharing many of the same attributes as the fairies of the British Isles, yet shaped by the landscape, weather, flora, and fauna of their native lands.
In the 1970s, Faeries was an international bestseller, translated into many languages — and just as it prompted English readers to re–examine their rich fairy heritage (bringing classic works by Katharine Briggs, Thomas Keightley, W.Y. Evans–Wentz, and other folklorists back into print), it also encouraged readers in other lands to discover their own native spirits. Subsequently, a number of articles and books were published containing fairy lore from other parts of the world, including(in English or English translation) The Great Encyclopedia of Faeries, a guide to French and Celtic folklore by Pierre Dubois; The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies by Anna Franklin, a guide to fairy lore world–wide; and (most recently) Fairies,a gorgeous art book by the Japanese painter Yoshitaka Amano, exploring the fairy traditions of East and West.
In North America, there is native fairy lore in the "Little People" stories of the Abenaki, Algonquin, Apache, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Crow, Mohawk, Muscogea, and many other Native American tribes — as well as transplanted fairy lore brought by immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, and other countries with strong fairy traditions. Fairy imagery is enormously popular among American children of diverse ethnic backgrounds (so much so that these days even Barbie has a fairy outfit, complete with wings),and the fairies of the American illustrator Amy Brown are deeply loved, and their fashions emulated, by a generation of teenage girls. Although England has produced what is arguably the best fairy story of our time (Susanna Clarke’s splendid Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell), the American author John Crowley has a very close runner–up for that title in his much–loved novel Little, Big.In the last twenty–five years, North American authors have outpaced their British colleagues by producing a large number of fine fairy novels, many set on American or Canadian soil: Holly Black’s Tithe, Francesca Lia Block’s I Was a Teenage Fairy, Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks,Michael Chabon’s Summerland, Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, Charles de Lint’s Widdershins, Keith Donohue’s The Stolen Child, Patricia McKillip’s Something Rich and Strange,Delia Sherman’s Changeling, and Midori Snyder’s Hannah’s Garden and The Flight of Michael McBride, to name just a few of them. Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner,and The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle are three more fairy novels that shouldn’t be missed — all of them by American authors, but set in the British Isles. I also highly recommend Stardust, a charmingly illustrated fairy novel created in collaboration by the British writer Neil Gaiman and the American painter Charles Vess. (It’s currently being made into a feature film starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, and Claire Danes.)
Writers and artists working with other classic elements of folklore (dragons, mermaids, unicorns) are rarely asked if they actually believe in them, but this is a question that crops up constantly for those who paint or write about fairies. The answer? Some do and some don’t, showing the same range of belief, uncertainty, and disbelief as the population at large. In the British countryside, a widespread belief in fairies persisted well into the 19th century (when incidents of "fairy abduction" were still reported in the tabloid press); and in some pockets of the country, such as Devon and Cornwall, it quietly persists today.When I first moved into my 400–year–old Devon cottage, an elderly neighbor of mine advised me quite seriously to be sure to plant a rowan tree. The rowan is a favorite of the wee folk, she explained. They’d be pleased, and thus the house would be protected from all sorts of fairy mischief. Brian Froud writes, "After years of painting faeries, I’m often asked if I ‘believe’ in them. The best answer I can give is that I don’t have much of a choice in whether I believe in them or not, for they seem to insist on my painting them. I paint by intuition, and faeries keep appearing on the page before me."
For some artists and writers, fairy lore is simply a structure on which to build an interesting picture or tale, for the imagery has accrued power through centuries of use and doesn’t require literal belief to evoke feelings of wonder and enchantment. Others view fairies metaphorically, as symbols to express the inexpressible: the spiritual interaction of humankind with the numinous qualities of nature. (For a deeply insightful article on the "invisibles" or "spirits" of nature as a purely natural and not supernatural phenomenon, see David Abram’s "The Invisibles" in the Spring 2006 issue, Volume 31:1, of Parabola Magazine.)
"Traditional cultures have always recognized and honored the animate spirits of the earth," notes Brian Froud, "but in Western culture we’ve rather left that behind, to our spiritual cost, and ecological peril. Now we’re beginning to recognize how important it is to have a vibrant relationship with the land beneath our feet — and that the old stories and mythic imagery can aid this process."
In this Issue
In the Reading Room, we start off with an article on the history of the fairy folk — focused primarily on English–language lore, legends, and literature. Ranging farther afield, we have articles on fairies and other magical spirits in the folk traditions of the following cultures: Italian, Hungarian, Persian, Tibetan, Korean, Costa Rican, and Cherokee. Among our fiction offerings, we have a brand new story from Carolyn Dunn rooted in traditional Cherokee lore;a poignant story by Élís Ní Dhuibhne inspired by a classic Irish fairy tale; and Kevin Brockmeier’s gorgeous retelling of an old English legend. Our poetry this month (in the Coffeehouse section) also draws upon a variety of cultural traditions: Cuban, Scandinavian, Australian, and Arabic in addition to Celtic.
In the Crossroads (cross–media) section, Kristen McDermott looks at theatrical representations of fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Peter Pan, and James Graham looks at depictions of the fairy tale witch Baba Yaga in Russian children’s films. In the Writing Room, Niko Silvester looks at aspects of shamanism and fairy lore in my novel The Wood Wife, giving us the opportunity to re–present the magical Wood Wife paintings and drawings of Brian Froud.In the Gallery, we feature the fairy paintings of Ernie Sandidge, a nomadic artist who hails from East Tennessee; and we have a look at "sketchbook pages" of fairy drawings by four artists: Alan Lee, Iain McCaig, Charles Vess, and me. Also, in the Gallery archives, the pages devoted to the fairy artists Brian and Wendy Froud have been re–designed and updated.
Information on all of the writers and artists who contributed to this Double Issue can be found at the bottom of this page.
Endicott Studio News
The Endicott Studio now has its own blog, which allows us to post regularly updated news, reviews, and links to sites of interest to fans of mythic art. The blog is edited by Midori Snyder, with contributions from me and the rest of the Endicott staff: Helen Pilinovsky, Elizabeth Genco, and Jamie Bluth.Please feel free to post your own book recommendations, art recommendations, and links to sites featuring your own mythic art in the Comments section of the blog.
You may have also noticed that there’s a new name in our staff listing. Jamie Bluth joined us in June as copy–editor for the Journal of Mythic Arts and book reviewer for the Endicott blog. She jumped right into the deep end with work on the numerous pages of this Double Issue, and we’re enormously grateful for her help and skill.
Thank you, once again, for dropping by the Endicott Studio, and for supporting the Journal of Mythic Arts. May the fairies native to whatever land you live in always treat you kindly and well. . .and if they don’t, try planting a rowan tree (or the local equivalent). Mine is fourteen years old now, and my neighbor was right. The fairies give me no trouble at all.
Contributors, Summer–Autumn 2006
Nathalie F. Anderson
Heinz Insu Fenkl
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Élís Ní Dhuibhne
Catherynne M. Valente