Sunday, November 9, 2014


Fairies, or faeries or even the fae as many like to refer to them are relative newcomers on the urban fantasy block, despite being around for much longer than other staples like vampires and werewolves.

There are all different types of fairy, hence the various forms of reference, and they come from every culture, although we mostly tend to think of them as originating from European folklore.

Fairies are generally lesser creatures than gods, although they often do their bidding and associate very closely with them. Some types of fae are more closely associated with certain gods than others, and some don't have any association with a higher power at all.

For as long as people have been writing and telling stories they've used fairies in them. In days gone by the fairy folk ranged from mischievous to malicious and often didn't care for mortals at all. In a literary sense this started to change in the 19th century, when writers began to depict fairies as little brightly winged creatures that delighted young girls.

The other type of fae was still around, but they didn't appear as often.  J.M Barrie used his famous Tinkerbell in Peter Pan and Enid Blyton often wrote about fairies. Although her fairy followed the accepted form of little winged female she also mentioned other fairy folk like pixies, gnomes, etc...

Unlike many of the other urban fantasy staples I've covered Hollywood never really discovered the fairy. Being a part of the original story Tinkerbell appeared in Disney's animated version of the classic, and the little fairy proved so popular that she was briefly part of their Princess Pantheon before being migrated into her own very successful spin off franchise. Disney also used the Blue Fairy from Carlo Collodi's classic Pinocchio when they animated that.

Fairies tended to appear in animated form only in films and TV, because they weren't easy to depict otherwise and before the days of advanced CGI it was both difficult and expensive to film fairies. Even now it's still not easy and CGI still isn't cheap.

There were efforts in the early to mid 80's to give movie going audiences better fairies with films like The Dark Crystal, The Neverending Story and Labyrinth. I also kind of liked what they did with the second Hellboy film and it's depiction of an elf king.

The Tinkerbell franchise aside there hasn't been a great effort by Hollywood to give audiences a whole genre of fairy films, and it has to be said that the Disney Fairies films are largely made with a young, mostly female audience in mind.

Shows like Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have dealt fleetingly with fairies, and so has Grimm, but the show that's made the best attempt and tried to make it a more adult concept is the SyFy show Lost Girl. The show is of varying quality, but it does feature genuine fairy folklore in it and shows creatures like succubi (the main character is a succubus) and shape shifters. It also deals with Celtic mythology and pits the 'light' fae and the 'dark' fae against each other. It's a choice that main character Bo is often forced to make.

I'm not sure exactly when urban fantasy writers started to tackle fairies taking them out of the province of epic fantasy writers. I think it began sometime in the mid 80's. That was when I first encountered the work of Tom Deitz.

Deitz isn't read much now, but his YA urban fantasy stories of David Sullivan, his friends and their dealings with the Celtic fairies (the Sidhe Seelie Court) that lived under the nearby mountain in David's native Georgia were always entertaining and probably should get a bigger audience than they ever did.

Laurell K. Hamilton got into the act with her Merry Gentry series. Unfortunately as with the better known Anita Blake series, the sex took precedence over the story and they became rather tedious to read.

Keeping the younger readers in the loop J. K Rowlings made regular references to fairies of various sorts in her Harry Potter books, the best known example were the house elves, (Dobby), a variation on the form of helpful house sprite from British and European folklore.

Kim Harrison also included fae in her Hollows series, mostly in the form of the pixie detective Jenks. I actually stopped reading the books when Jenks disappeared from their pages, although I am informed he returned, so I may have to reread that series.

Jim Butcher also had fae in his Dresden Files. I'm quite a fan of Toot Toot and his band of pizza hungry warriors. Toot is generally referred to as a fairy, but he behaves more the way modern writers depict pixies.

Larry Correia has played around with the idea in his Monster Hunter books and we get things like internet savvy trolls, gangsta gnomes and trailer park elves. Oddly enough this actually works most of the time and comes across as quite funny.

Charlaine Harris gave Sookie Stackhouse a fairy godmother and Sookie herself is a fairy, it's why she can read minds and what makes her irresistible to vampires. The ideas filtered from the books into the TV show True Blood, and while I don't think she was in the books I did like Andy Bellefleur's half fairy daughter Adalind.

The first urban fantasy author I saw deal largely exclusively with the fae in her series was Seanan McGuire in the October Daye books. Oddly for urban fantasy books there's not a vampire or a werewolf to be seen, admittedly one of the main characters can become a cat whenever he wants, but that's because he's a cait sidhe, not a were of any sort. The author majored in folklore in college, so has a good working knowledge of the medium and can mess around with things quite successfully. While October, generally known as Toby, prefers to work and live in the human world, most of her adventures and investigations take place in the fairy knowes and deal with fae, whether or not they're in the human world or their own.

Yasmine Galenorn kind of went the same route with her Otherworld series. That one is about 3 sisters, who have a power in the fae world, but work as go betweens in the human world to try and prevent both places from exploding into open warfare. Each of the sisters has a separate, but useful power. One is a witch, one a shapeshifter and one a vampire. The first 3 books were each told from a different sister's viewpoint.

Nancy A. Collins wrote a fun little trilogy about Golgotham; a New York neighbourhood where magic works and various mythological races and cultures live quite happily side by side and tolerated, if not exactly welcomed, by their neighbours in the rest of the city.

British writer Emma Newman took a different tack with her Split Worlds series. That one deals with Mundanus (as the fae refer to our world) and the Nether (the fairy world) and the efforts of one fae girl to live on her own terms in Mundanus and not be drawn into the power games and restrictive Georgian society in the Nether.

Emma's series could be inspired in part by Marie Brennan's Onyx Court books, which deal with the fae and their interference with the human world at various points, generally the British royal family over the years.

Epic fantasy author Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel) entered what I found to be a superior entry into the urban fantasy field featuring the fae with her Agent of Hel series. That one is about a half incubus girl Daisy Johanssen living in the Michigan town of Pemkowet, that makes its large fae community a tourist attraction.

Suggested reading and watching:

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar
The David Sullivan series by Tom Deitz
The Hollows by Kim Harrison
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
October Daye by Seanan McGuire
Otherworld by Yasmine Galenorn
Golgotham by Nancy A. Collins
Split Worlds by Emma Newman
Agent of Hel by Jacqueline Carey

Pinocchio (1940)
Peter Pan (1953)
The Dark Crystal (1982)
The Neverending Story (1984)
Labyrinth (1986)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)
Supernatural (2005 - )
True Blood (2008 - 2014)
Lost Girl (2010 - )
Grimm (2011 - )

1 comment:

  1. Another film about fairies you haven't included is: "Fairy Tale: A True Story". This is a fictionalised version of the Cottingley Fairies story, it's a children's film, but I liked it a lot.

    And Torchwood also did at least one episode about fairies, which riffed on the Cottingley Fairies story as well.

    Other books that feature fairies / fae as major characters to have a look at:
    The Tithe books (Tithe, Valiant, Ironside) by Holly Black.
    The Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer (although, they're more SF fairies than Fantasy fairies :) )
    Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa