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In an opal dream cave I found a fairy:
Her wings were frailer than flower petals –
Frailer far than snowflakes.
She was not frightened, but poised on my finger,
Then delicately walked into my hand.
I shut the two palms of my hand together
And held her prisoner.
I carried her out of the opal cave,
Then opened my hands.
First she became thistledown,
Then a mote in a sunbeam,
Then – nothing at all,
Empty now is my opal dream cave.

by Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923)


The Stolen ChildRobin: This complex, interwoven novel is a fascinatingly different take on the old human myth of the changeling. You remember the tale – a human child is stolen away and replaced by a fairy duplicate. An uncommon appearance, failure to grow, a rebellious nature and peculiar gifts have all been blamed on such a change. Also it has been used to excuse harsh treatment or rejection. All that was long ago, however, and this story is set in the twentieth century, in America, when fairy belief is rare and the wild places are under threat.

The seven-year-old Henry Day runs away into the woods and hides in a hollow tree; a group of strange wild children capture him and take him away to their camp. They call him “Aniday” and teach him to live in the woods. It is a hard life, and they exist by scavenging anything they can, both from the land and from the human settlements. As time goes by he does not age at all and develops strange gifts: far-seeing and hearing, swift feet, healing powers. He tries desperately to hang on to his vague memories of another life, writing and drawing what he remembers, against the advice of the others. When he returns to his old home, by chance or instinct, and is seen by his father, they punish him. They are afraid of being found by the humans, quite reasonably. After another abduction goes badly wrong, their camp is discovered and destroyed, and they are lucky to escape.

Meanwhile, the new Henry Day is growing up. He was not born in the woods, but was himself stolen and replaced almost a hundred years earlier. Just as Aniday becomes faerie, his replacement becomes human – or rather, human again. He gradually loses his abilities and becomes an adult. He is secretive and obsessive. His fear of being found out, and then of losing his own child, lead him to seek a forbidden meeting with his “other self”.

Both feel they do not belong where they are – yet they cannot go back. They are tied both to their old lives and their new. How this strange pattern originally arose is never explained, as by this time nobody knows. The true faerie are gone and the wild children are a fading echo of them. The story is partly a reflection on the nature of true identity: who owns it, the individual or the family, if it can be lost, and what happens to the child-self during the strange process of “growing up”.

Columbine: The story is told by the two main characters in their own words. Aniday says: “I wrote it down to show that we are more than a myth, a tale for children, a nightmare or a daydream.” He uses the term “hobgoblin” as well as “changeling” to describe them, perhaps because they are rough and untamed, “feral as a pack of wild dogs”. But though most of them are content to live a barbarous life in the woods, his closest friend, Speck, has a persisting love of literature and creates a nest in the town library where she reads to him. She survives the tragedies that the band endures and follows her own path.

The Fairies' Dance by Richard Doyle

The fairies are dancing — how nimbly they bound!
They flit o’er the grass tops, they touch not the ground;
Their kirtles of green are with diamonds bedight,
All glittering and sparkling beneath the moonlight.

Hark, hark to their music! how silvery and clear —
‘Tis surely the flower-bells that ringing I hear, —
The lazy-wing’d moth, with the grasshopper wakes,
And the field-mouse peeps out, and their revels partakes.

How featly they trip it! how happy are they
Who pass all their moments in frolic and play,
Who rove where they list, without sorrows or cares,
And laugh at the fetters mortality wears!

But where have they vanish’d? — a cloud ‘s o’er the moon,
I’ll hie to the spot, — they’ll be seen again soon —
I hasten — ’tis lighter, — and what do I view? —
The fairies were grasses, the diamonds were dew.

And thus do the sparkling illusions of youth
Deceive and allure, and we take them for truth;
Too happy are they who the juggle unshroud,
Ere the hint to inspect them be brought by a cloud.

by Carolina Eliza Scott (1777-1853)

A lovely piece of misdirection by this band of dancers. Taking advantage of a change in the light is always to be recommended. Of course it is always easier when the human is all-too-willing to provide not only an “explanation”, but a moral!