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  • sianynleigh

What are Fairies?

If I were to ask to you imagine a fairy, most would envision tiny people wearing flower petals and leaves flittering around on sparkly wings. Since the Victorian era, this has been the go-to depiction of fairies. But those perfect, miniature winged supermodels are just one type of fairy - specifically, the Pixie. The term fairy actually refers to a broad number of supernatural beings with close ties to nature and a complicated relationship with humans.   

There are tiny fairies, but also tall ones, and heights in-between. They may have animal-like features or appear completely human. Some fairies are tricksters, pulling pranks and even contriving dangerous accidents to purposefully harm humans as a form of entertainment. They have also been known to kidnap humans, either by outright force or by tricking them into crossing into the Fairy Realm for a mind-blowing rave only to stumble home in the wee hours of the morning to find an entire century had passed while they danced the night away. 

But there are plenty of tales of benevolent fairies, as well. They can act as guides, mentors, scouts, or bestow gifts and favors. Having a fairy spouse was once a mark of prestige and power. Several noble families in the UK once justified their right to rule by detailing Fae ancestry, and a large number of folkloric heroes from the pre-medieval times were said to have Fae blood in their lineage.

And Europe isn’t the only place with tales of mischievous supernatural folk. Cultures in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific also have tales of fairy-like beings.

They are divided into types depending on their general attributes:

Goblins - Fairies with a strong association with the earth and underground, often strong protectors of their territory, but also tricksters, terrorizers, and grotesque in appearance. In Europe, this includes brownies, dwarves, duendes, gnomes, imps, leprechauns, and kobolds. South Korea has the dokkaebi; India has the gudrobonga and kuttichathan; the muki in South America and the pukwudgie in North America; and Africa has the tokoloshe, who has a habit of turning invisible before wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting village.

 Trooping fairies - these are fairies who prefer to move in large packs or groups, turning a clearing into their own personal nightclub or using swarm attack on their victim. Examples of these are pixies, nixies, sprites, elves, redcaps, The Sluagh (which in my opinion represent early depictions of zombies and lichs), Tylwyth Teg, and Menehune.

Solitary Fairies - these fairies may interact with their kind but live, wander, and engage with humans on an individual basis. These are Aos Si, kitsune, Aziza, clurichaun, hulder, banshees, leprechauns, and the like.

Unseelie or Dark fairies - these are fairies who are generally perceived as ugly and often have a taste for human flesh and causing pain. These include trolls, ogres, puca, bugbears, yokai (though these can also be benign), boogeymen, El Coco, the Sack Man, etcetera. 

And dozens more that defy categorization but nonetheless fill the role of Fairy being.

Some tales portray fairies as having complex societies and hierarchies, while other tales take a more simplistic view of fairy culture. Fairies are storytelling tools: to provide assistance or hindrance to a hero, to embody fear of nature or death, to create a juxtaposition between good and evil. How deep the worldbuilding on their society goes depends on how integral to the story their background is, and how it serves the main character.

The alluring aspect of fairies is they can be anything you need them to be for your story. They are the perfect supernatural element, living, vibrant, and progressing with the literary eras in unique ways. Their changeability and adaptability is baked into their very design. 

This adaptability is the very reason why fairies feature heavily in my alternate universe, the Grymveil. They allow me the flexibility to explore magic and wonder and still keep the human element. I hope to share their stories with you soon.

Until next time, Stay Magical!


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