I was on the Tube, travelling under London at high speed, when a middle-aged American woman wearing a pink sparkly Tinkerbell t-shirt saw me staring. “You’re never too old to believe in fairies,” she said. I clapped my hand over her mouth and shook my head at her violently, and only the fact that we were protected by concrete and steel do I believe that there wasn’t immediate retribution.
There’s apparently an entire generation of people who think of the Fair Folk as sweet and friendly and full of whimsy.
These deluded souls appear to believe that the fair folk are a variant of angel. I know, it’s easy to get confused with all these supernatural creatures with wings who insist on fluttering about on the edges of our existence. But it’s important to understand the difference.
Top tip: Angels believe in people and may even protect them. Fairies, not so much.
Obviously someone needs to explain, clearly and concisely, that the Fair Folk are not our friends. The problem is that most of the real information is shared in old verse or embedded in obscure folk songs, all the better to appease the diminutive race that lives on the fringes of our reality. Like so:
Up the airy mountain
Down the rushy glen
We dare not go a-hunting
For fear of little men.
— The Fairies, William Allingham
This makes it easy for the average bluetooth-wearing hipster to shrug away the warnings and say, “Yes, very quaint, clearly this doesn’t apply to modern life.” This is utterly wrong.
The Fair Folk are sociopaths. There are stories of the little people all over the world and although the details differ, all of them share common traits: They are ruled by an incomprehensible sense of ethics and an interest in human agony.
This list here is an attempt to modernise the information that we have, so that in this age of smart phones and constant connections, we do not fall foul of the rage of the fair folk.
Reason Number One: Unauthorised Human Testing
Cybernetics, time travel, deep sleep, coma—it’s not clear exactly what sciences the fair folk are investigating, but the regular reports of “lost time” by their human subjects make it clear that something is happening. We have very little information but it is clear that the results of these tests varied. Many stories abound of a person waking from a prolonged sleep to take a single step and then crumble in the dust. And there are at least two reported incidents of the subject returning to consciousness (and to their long dead families) a hundred years later, to the general confusion of the populace. You may think this is the stuff of ancient myths and legends, but there’s plenty of evidence that it still happens today. There are many locations—including Florida, Costa del Sol, Ibiza and Tiajuana—where previously normal young people converge for spring equinox (also known as “spring break”) to dance and sing (see also: fairy rings). Many of these supplicants then experience lost time, an oft repeated experience described as “only gone out for a few drinks” when the victim then wakes up on a grass verge or park bench, with no recollection as to where the night went.
Reason Number Two: Fair Folk Coming Over Here, Stealing Our Children
Changelings have been recorded since… well, since recorded time. There’s a few theories as to why the fair folk may want human babies, but none of them are particularly cheering. In Wales, the Tylwyth Teg were known to kidnap human children for sport. Now we have direct evidence that the swapping of fae and human can happen as late as puberty. Many parents have reported putting their pre-pubescent teenager to bed one evening and woke the next morning to find a vacant-eye’d slack-jawed phone-poking shadow, apparently unable to function without at least one bud attached to ear. The traditional cure is to lock the changeling in a hot oven, although there does not appear to be any guarantee that you will receive your stolen child back.
Reason Number Three: Wire Sex
The Fair Folk are well known for tangling hair (or mane, one thing the fair folk are not is speciest) in the night.
“She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone…….
That plaits the manes of horses in the night
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes.”
— Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
Maybe that doesn’t sound all that bad, but by all accounts, the tangles caused by the Fair Folk are personal. If one has turned his or her attention to your hair, you’ll find a comb will not help, you’ll have to cut the knot out. But it gets worse: modern-day wee ones do not settle for tangling hair but instead amuse themselves with cables, chargers and especially, in my personal experience, headsets. Urban Dictionary defines the conglomerate of many wires tangled together as “wire sex” but rather peculiarly, the site does not list the cause. The maliciously meticulous knotting of cables is clear sign of a visitation by the Fair Folk …and they are not pleased with you.
Reason Number Four: Fair Folk Don’t Use Sustainable Resources
You’ve seen the pictures: miniature beings in lovely little red caps prancing through the meadows, an elfin face peering cheekily at you from underneath a toadstool. These are the Powrie and their caps must be kept red: If the hat dries out, it will die. They do not, however, use sustainable dyes nor even cochineal which they could harvest directly from the ants. No, they use blood. Human blood. It’s apparently a matter of principle.
Now I concede, there’s currently plenty of us to supply enough red blood for a million tiny little caps but (1) the powrie kill one person per hat, rather than banding together for efficiency, and (2) the dye needs to be reapplied regularly to keep the caps bright red. It’s not hard to figure out that over time we will become an endangered resource.
Reason Number Five: Fair Folk Support Slates
It’s absolutely true. The Fair Folk have always been found in mines and quarries, ranging from Germany to Spain to Wales. They may not abide iron, but the coblynau and the knockers surely approve of slate and coal and copper, based on the tales told of their support of the miners and help given to find the ore and rock. Indeed, the largest slate quarry in Cornwall is home to dozens of stories about the piskies and the nath. So if you wish to stop slates, you must first control the fair folk and ensure they don’t get a vote.
I could go on but hopefully that is enough to strike fear in the modern soul. Please spread the word that the Fair Folk are not Tinkerbell and they do not want us to clap our hands and wish upon a star.
What do they want?
The truth is, the Fair Folk aren’t that interested in us. But if you gain their attention, and don’t pay your respect, or call them by name, that can change very quickly. And, well, let me be a hundred percent clear: There is no app for that.
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley is an American/German writer of science fiction, fantasy and aviation non-fiction. Her upcoming novella, Domnall and the Borrowed Child, publishes November 10th from Tor.com. Read an excerpt from this fairy-story here.