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Prilla and the Butterfly LieRobin: Prilla was the new fairy in Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg. You may remember she had trouble fitting in at first, and it seems this has made her very eager to please. Not a very fairy characteristic, but she is more ‘human’ than most. She actually finds it hard to say no when invited to do things she doesn’t want to do. The other fairies don’t notice because, to them, doing anything associated with their talents is just wonderful. Prilla’s own talent for visiting the mainland is being neglected. It may sound like not a very useful talent, but in fact it reinforces fairy belief among human children, especially important to the Never fairies, who can die of disbelief. Vidia, the most selfish of the Never fairies, does something kind for once, and advises Prilla to toughen up.

Not so easy for Prilla, however, and in attempting to refuse to help with the caterpillar shearing she blurts out that she prefers butterflies – loves them, in fact. So she can hardly refuse to do a spot of butterfly herding when no one else will volunteer, can she? Not having any idea how to deal with uncooperative butterflies, Prilla has a series of comical misadventures. This is a funny story with a nice moral about not being a doormat.

This book is one of a series about the Never Fairies by Disney.

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Morlo and his motherColumbine: On the cover of this book you can see a boy swimming with a seal. But this is not just any seal – it is his mother, a selkie. In a moment he will become a seal himself, embracing his destiny as a child of the sea.

This is a truly lovely picture book, with especially gorgeous pictures of the Welsh coastal landscape. The story, told with poetic simplicity, explains how a particular Welsh village came to be deserted, inhabited only by the local wildlife. It begins when a selkie or seal woman falls in love with a local fisherman. Trusting him with her sealskin, she marries him and lives with him for many years before she has to go back to the sea. She has told their children, Ffion and Morlo, stories of life under the sea, of foam palaces and shining cities of gold and pearls.

When the villagers hear about life in the New World from a traveller, they are seized with a longing to go, but do not have enough money for the passage. Ffion and Morlo call their mother from the sea to ask if she can help. Morlo swims with his mother to bring up treasure from the deep.

This second picture is of Ffion, a child of the land although she is the daughter of a selkie.
Ffion

The Two Princesses of BamarreColumbine: The Two Princesses of Bamarre is set in an unusual world. The humans are quite beset by an array of dangerous magical creatures, so that they are always in jeopardy if they venture far from their own area and are not at all safe at home. Worse yet is the Grey Death, a mysterious creeping sickness.

This is mostly the story of the quest of one of the princesses to find a cure, and her encounters with ogres, spectres, gryphons and a lonely dragon. The fairies do not come in until almost the end, but they are the most grand fairies there ever were. Really, they are almost like angels.

The elves are by contrast quite homely. The princesses know them as nurses, a role they have taken up since the legendary hero Drualt saved their queen from gryphons. Milton, the princess’s nurse, is in addition a great knitter. Bamarre is also home to a unique kind of being; they are called sorcerers but are not the usual sort. Born when a lightning bolt hits marble, they have a flame for a heart and may live five hundred years. They can fly and have great magical skills. Rhys, the royal sorcerer, is particularly adept at calling clouds from the sky.

But of course you are wanting to hear about the fairies! The princesses believe that the fairies of their world can cure the Grey Death: that they can, in fact, do anything. They have not been seen by humans for hundreds of years and have been sorely missed. But when the monsters attack at the very foot of the fairies’ invisible mountain, the courage of the two princesses inspires them to intervene. They appear as human-shaped creatures within whorls of coloured light. These beings of light rescue the injured humans and send a healing rain over the whole realm. Their magical abilities are so great they can even move the stars. This is only the beginning of their marvellousness, because it seems they are fighting all the time to protect the world: “There are monsters deep in the oceans and high in the sky that threaten all the kingdoms… Eternal night hovers above our daylight. We fight monsters in that inky dark. A host of fairies is fighting now.” Although they are so remote and even a bit intimidating, some of them were once human; on the brink of death they had been given the opportunity to join the radiance of fairy life. I think that’s rather wonderful.

This is not only an exciting adventure with lots of danger and bravery but a rather sweet romance; and all with a light and amusing touch. The author also wrote Ella Enchanted and Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg.

Dulcie and TinkColumbine: Those Never fairies are such hard workers! Dulcie is a baking-talent fairy in charge of the Home Tree kitchen. Normally she just bakes all the time, so when Queen Clarion tells her to take some time off, she is at a loss what to do. She winds up at the library where she finds a hidden ancient recipe for “Comforte Cayke”. Of course she is eager to try it. But because she is not supposed to be working, she has to sneak around for the ingredients. Thus she explores a lot of Pixie Hollow and witnesses the talents of the fairies engaged in turning wheat into flour, collecting eggs, making sugar and so on. Finally she has to go on an adventure deep into the forest, to find the Creeping Treacle Vine. So she becomes both bolder and humbler, learning to appreciate the richness of life in Pixie Hollow and not to take the work of other fairies for granted.

Robin: I found it interesting that as the natural world is not imagined as fairy-sized in Pixie Hollow, just carrying one grain of wheat or a single robin’s egg is quite an effort for a fairy. The recipe calls for three sacks of flour to one egg. Hearing about all that hard work is so tiring, it makes me feel like taking a holiday myself!

This book is one of a series about the Never Fairies by Disney

Tinker Bell in Peter PanRobin: There were always known to be lots of Never Land fairies, of course, but until very recently only one had a name: Tinker Bell. She was too tiny to be seen on stage (actually I think she was played by a light and a bell), so it was not until the Disney film of Peter Pan that she “got her close-up”. I think she could be said to have stolen the film. Though that was a long time ago now, she has never been forgotten.

Clearly Tink (as everyone calls her) got tired of Peter at some point and just went home. The whole new world of Pixie Hollow was revealed in Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg and since then there have been lots of books and a film called Tinker Bell. She’s not the most important fairy or anything, but she is the best known and she has quite the personality.

Four fairies of Pixie HollowThe Never fairies live on the island Never Land, in Pixie Hollow, or Fairy Haven (the latter may be the part of Pixie Hollow they live in, I’m not sure). Queen Clarion is their gracious leader. There are girl fairies and boy fairies (called sparrow men) and each of them has a special ‘talent’ which takes up most of their time. This business of talents is very odd to my mind; it seems to stem from Peter’s casually describing Tinker Bell as a mender of pots and pans, something which James Barrie himself claimed was not true: “Peter had a bad habit of saying the first thing that came into his head”. However, she is a very keen tinker in this world. It is notable that the other fairies’ names do not seem to relate to their talents. These talents are apparently innate, and a source of joy to the fairies rather than a type of work, but it does seem to limit them quite a lot. Imagine being a polishing-talent fairy, for example, and doing lots of polishing every day. The animal-talent fairies understand and help animals, the nursing-talent fairies help the sick and the light-talent fairies put on light shows, but some of the talents are rather absurd like the “knowing-when-a-dish-is-done talent”.

Pixie Hollow is a bustling community and the fairies seem to have lots of fun, though they suffer a fair amount of angst, worrying about this and that. There are many dangers on the island, as we know, and they can get into serious trouble.

Four fairies of Pixie HollowHere are some of the chapter books:
Dulcie’s Taste of Magic by Gail Herman
Tink, North of Never Land by Kiki Thorpe
Prilla and the Butterfly Lie by Kitty Richards
Rani and the Three Treasures by Kimberly Morris
The Trouble with Tink by Kiki Thorpe
Beck Beyond the Sea by R. H. Disney

Of course Disney doesn’t stop at books! Apart from the Tinker Bell film they have more films coming out, and there are dolls and toys and a special Pixie Hollow attraction at their theme parks. The fairies even have their own Disney website, where you can “create your own fairy”! And there is a quite elaborate Pixie Hollow online game too.

A Little More Fairy Dust Please by Mary BaxColumbine: A good many books about or containing fairies are written for younger children, children who have not long since started reading for themselves or just want something quick and easy to read. These are of great interest from a fairy point of view, as representing the ideas influencing the humans most likely to encounter the more whimsical of the folk. Because there is a danger of them overwhelming the other books, they are given a category of their own.

Many of these books are in series, like the remarkable Rainbow Magic series which seems to go on and on, and the rather excellent Fairy Dust Fairies. Others are the Fairy Charm series, the Fairy House series, the Fairy Chronicles and the Naughty Fairies series. Not to be forgotten either are the Disney Fairies books set in Pixie Hollow on the island called Never Land.

There are also appearances of fairies in books such as The Magic Faraway Tree, and I might also have books of stories for the same age group.

It would be impossible to be exhaustive (without getting exhausted) but I hope to look at a few in each series. Oh, and I believe they are called “chapter books”, even though most books actually have chapters, because they are the first step up from picture books, which don’t.

Columbine: The second of the Chronicles of Faerie spends less time with the Fairy Court, or the Gentry, as they are called here, who appeared in The Hunter’s Moon. At second hand we find out that Midir, now the High King of Faerie, is seeking a human champion. His first choice, Honor, died falling from a cliff, and the action of the book starts a year later when her twin, Laurel, is enlisted to take her place.

Laurel is a sceptical hearty girl and merely tolerated her gentle sister’s belief in fairies, but when she encounters the clurichaun, a cheerful member of the leprechaun clan, he advises her : “Act as if ye believe and see what happens.” He says he is one of the Fir Dhearga, the Red People, sent by the High King. Hearing that her sister is caught in “a quare place” (that’s her on the cover) and hoping to save her, Laurel accepts the mission: to find the Summer King, who alone can light the beacon on Hy Brasil to initiate the Ring of the Sun which will pour light and power into the troubled heart of Faerie.

Laurel’s encounters with the ‘lesser’ Irish folk are alarming. On her journey she is accosted by a frightening bird-man – “It was the eyes that truly terrified her. Pure black and rimmed with gold coronas, they burned with a feral intensity” – one of the Fir-Fia-Caw and not the last she will see. She is charmed but rather overwhelmed by some mischievous sprites: “She was surrounded by whorls and tinsels of light – glittering golds and greens, frilly pinks and blues. A burst of miniature fireworks! And inside the lights flashed limbs, veined wings, and streaming tresses.” And she barely escapes with her life from the Folk of the Sea, the boctogai who live in caves by the sea shore. These sea fairies are described as amorphous and mercurial, changing shape and size at will, all the colours of water. They seem to be having a wild party and welcome Laurel at first, but turn on her when she mentions the Summer King.

Eventually there is a great fairy battle to attain Hy Brasil, with a ghost pirate ship weighing in. Grand stuff. And Laurel learns the truth of the many warnings she has received about being misled by tricksters. She doesn’t get what she hope for, but there are compensations.

Robin: This and the previous book echo an old strange belief about Faerie – that it is one aspect of the Afterlife, though unusually it is not just a matter of having to die in the human world to live afterwards in Faerie, but vice versa. There is an interesting parallel with another book about Irish fairies, Wild Blood, when Laurel insists her friend remain in the human world, saying: “You were born into this world. It’s your duty to live here.”

The first book of the Chronicles of Faerie is The Hunter’s Moon. Other books in the series are The Light-Bearer’s Daughter and The Book of Dreams – the latter explores the fairy lore of Canada.

House of Many WaysThis book is set in a magical otherworld, one in which wizards and witches abound and magic is somewhat commonplace, though there are those, like Charmain’s mother, who don’t think it quite respectable. Charmain, who has never been either encouraged or inclined to do anything except read, is quite unprepared to look after a magical house and a self-willed little dog, even with the help of a hapless would-be wizard’s apprentice. She would rather work in the king’s library, but even there she is enlisted by the Wizard Howl and his wife Sophie to help solve the mystery of the realm’s vanishing revenues.

Elves and kobolds are the members of the Folk who appear in this book. I do not of course count the loathsome insectile lubbock or its evil humanoid offspring.

The elves appear as a kind of magical medical personnel, taking the afflicted Wizard Norland away to be cured. “A procession of tall, tall elves walked quietly in. They were all most medically dressed in white and there was no expression on their beautiful faces at all.” Charmain finds them quite unnerving, their gentle gracefulness making her feel clumsy and disorderly. One of the elves returns later, and is similarly grave and calm, despite the alarming news he brings. We also learn that the royal family has elven ancestors, and indeed the King is notably tall and mild. He confides in Charmain: “Nobody really trusts elves. Great mistake, in my opinion.” He later mentions in connection with the unpleasant characters of some of his family: “They tell me it can be like that when elf blood goes sour, but I think it’s just people, really.” A mysterious Elfgift is supposed to bring prosperity and protection to the kingdom but it has been missing for a long time.

The kobolds, by contrast, are small, blue and ugly. Charmain first encounters Rollo, the wizard’s gardener, when he tries to trick her into letting him chop down the wizard’s hydrangeas. His face is described as “crumpled with bad-tempered wrinkles and almost filled with a big nose.” Later on, Charmain and Peter (the apprentice) are mobbed by angry kobolds, “little blue men with different shapes of large blue noses” and “little blue women… distinguished by their smaller, gentler noses and their rather stylish flounced blue skirts.” They are angry because they disapprove of the multicoloured hydrangeas – hydrangeas should be blue, and they blame the wizard. It seems the kobolds normally take care of the wizard’s house and garden, working only at night like brownies, but they are clearly on strike and have gone so far as to magically remove the taps from the wizard’s kitchen. It is later discovered that greedy Rollo has been bribed by the lubbock to make trouble.

The kobolds live in a cave which can be reached by one of the house’s “many ways”. They are clearly skilled craftsmen, making rocking horses, dolls’ houses, cuckoo clocks and so on. Charmain finds them building a magnificent sled chair, a commission for the elves – apparently the elves always pay well.

There is at least one other tribe of kobolds in the country, in the service of the unpleasant Crown Prince. This lot are more greyish-green than blue and look unhappy and unhealthy. The chief blue kobold agrees with Charmain that they are in a bad way, but shrugs “they have not asked for help yet.” It seems hydrangeas are more worth making a fuss about.

The ending of the book is quite splendidly satisfactory, with the wizard returning, and the Elfgift found, prosperity restored and in general everyone suited.

Robin: I think you should perhaps mention the fire demon Calcifer – who is not so much a demon in the usual sense, more of an elemental spirit in the form of a fiery blue teardrop. He also appears in the two earlier books Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air (heavily disguised in the latter), and it seems he was originally a star which fell to earth. Not conventional Folk, but very strongly magical.

Columbine: You might be inclined seeing the over-title of the series, The Chronicles of Faerie, to think this is serious high fantasy, dealing with the succession of kings, great battles, courtly intrigue, all set in the deep past. Not at all. This is a much more homely tale; you might call it the story of a fairy game, maybe “catch me if you can” or “double or quits” – although there is a darker side, as is often the case with those Irish fairies, I believe. It relates to a frequent theme of Irish tales, the Rescue of Fairyland, in which a mortal always plays a major role.

Two sixteen-year-old cousins, one Irish, one American, set off on a trip in the latter-day Ireland of buses and Guinness to find “the hidden country”. As may happen, it finds them, and Findabhair is abducted by the dashing Fionvarra, King of Faerie. Her cousin Gwen sets off in pursuit following a clue dropped by a helpful shoemender… or is she being lured into danger? If so, she’s willing enough to go. She meets others along the way who also believe in fairies and are versed in fairy lore, and with their help manages to challenge tradition, though not without consequences.

The rich, even gorgeous descriptions truly capture the glamour, wildness and beauty of the Tuatha de Danaan. They may be made of moonshine and shadows: “They poured into the hollow like molten silver… Did they have wings? Or was that moonlight trailing behind them?”, ride recklessly across the Irish skies adrift in time, or be sumptuously clad at the fairy court: “There were flounces of silk and the sheen of satin, brocaded cloths stitched with gold-wrapped thread, rich dark velvets trimmed with pearls, and tasselled trails of lustrous damask.”

The fairy prince Midir gives a memorable account of the fairies’ magic or glamour: “The order of things is ours to play with. We can create a sun and a moon. The heavens we can sprinkle with radiant stars of the night. Wine we can make from the cold waters of the Boyne, sheep from stones, and swine from fern. On the mortal plane, life is a web of illusion. We weave what we wish.”