The Fae Are Not a Phase, Part I
Faerie is a fascinating trend taking BookTok and other social media platforms by storm in recent years. For my thesis paper at The New School, I decided to write a critical analysis of Faerie as a tool for writers to provide escapism and explore humanity–and I’m excited to share it with you, part by part, here on my blog!
Part I: The Fae Are Not a Phase–But They Do Have A History
Welcome to Faerie
Following three years of constant battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s no wonder that readers crave an escape from reality now more than ever. Like generations of people before, they’re finding this reprieve in the world of Faerie. A mythical place that is home to the dominant race of the Fae, creatures typically portrayed with pointed ears and wings, Faerie is a separate realm from that which humans live in, but the dimensions are often depicted as connected in some way, such as a portal or bridge. Faerie can be at once a setting for characters to explore and its own character thanks to the magic that flows throughout its very land, giving it a sort of sentience of its own, or through its designated royal rulers.
As Faeries artist Brian Froud said, “The myths and legends about Faerie are many and diverse, and often contradictory. Only one thing is certain – that nothing is certain. All things are possible in the land of Faerie.”
With an entirely new world of possibilities–some which may be familiar, and others brand new–readers are free to explore anywhere from as close as a door to the nearest Court to as far as the sprawling Unseelie lands. At the same time, the mysterious creatures of Faerie can challenge a human protagonist–or readers are welcome to delight in the dark, forbidden horrors of what a desperate Fae Queen might do to save her kingdom.
Faerie, Fairy, Fey, Fae… One World, Many Words
The myth of the Fae developed independently across a multitude of countries with Slavic, English, Persian, French, German, and Celtic cultures all creating their own version of the creatures (Macquire, 2021). Known as Fae, Fey, Fay, Faeries, Fairies, Fair Folk, and countless other names, the creatures’ English name base is believed to have come from the Latin word “Fata,” or “fate,” referring to the belief that these creatures had the ability to influence one’s life in a supernatural sense (Online Etymology Dictionary).
Physically, many versions of Fae myths describe them as possessing unearthly beauty, pointed ears, and sometimes fangs and fantastical skin colors. In addition, it is common for the Fair Folk to be immortal, or at least extremely long-lived. Still, most Fae aren’t completely invincible. Their weaknesses often include iron or salt, or even the inability to speak lies in some instances (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica).
In many tales, it is also known for Faeries to carry off human children and leave changelings in their place. Irish poet W.B. Yeats explored this ancient phenomenon in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry: “Come away, O, human child; To the woods and waters wild; With a fairy hand in hand; For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” In some cases, these children were stolen away from harsh conditions into a world of whimsy. Other times, the Fae were depicted with more malevolent motivations. For example, if one eats or drinks in many versions of Faerie, they are trapped there forevermore (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica).
Many of the worlds of the Fae aren’t pleasant places, either. They are often depicted as politically complex and violent, with several courts and kingdoms all vying for attention and power. Classically, Scottish myths believe there are six major courts of Faerie, split between the Seelie (generally “good”) and Unseelie (generally “bad”) varieties. The Seelie Court, whose name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word “sællic” meaning ‘happy’ or ‘prosperous.” In contrast, the Unseelie, or “un-happy” Court often contains malevolent Fae (Kruse, 2021). Other works choose to split the Fae instead by seasonal courts, such as Margaret Rogerson’s Autumn, Winter, Summer, and Spring, or Sarah J. Maas’ expansion to include not only the four seasons, but also solar courts such as Dawn, Day, and Night, all with their own High Lords. Regardless of how a particular work sets up its own particular land of Faerie, many–if not most–follow the system set up by Scottish Mythology that splits the Fae into like groups with high tensions between some or all of the courts–and often within each individual court as well.
To the Woods and Waters Wild
The world of Faerie provides readers with escapism while simultaneously exploring the human condition. The ability to explore both of these elements in a safe, accessible way makes Faerietales one of the most powerful genres for young readers, giving them the opportunity to come to a greater understanding of themselves and others while also developing emotional intelligence.
Writers have utilized the Fae’s world of complicated societal rules, glittering courts, and inhumanly glamour in this way since ancient times, and will only continue to do so. The history of fairy tales runs deep, and the well of new stories to come is even deeper. In other words, the Fae are not a phase.
In the modern era, writers like Margaret Rogerson, Holly Black, Sarah J. Maas, and countless others have perpetuated the tradition of twisting original faerie characteristics and court rules to create masterpieces of alluring cruelty that are impossible for the readers of today to ignore.
Stay tuned for Part II: The Grass is Always Greener–and so is the Magic Well, which examines Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens…