Saturday 15 June 2013

Why are fairies making a comeback?

Leaves The World To DarknessIt seems inappropriate somehow in a serious political blog (well, relatively serious) to talk about fairies, but that is what I'm going to do. My reason for doing so will become clear, but the hook is the report in the last edition of Countryfile about Elizabeth-Jane Baldry's amazing fairy feature films shot in and around Chagford (see clip, from 31.20).

But fairies are having rather a comeback these days.  There are fairy events all over the UK, and especially now in the USA.  Huge fairy exhibitions, Susannah Clarke's novels and goodness knows what else.  There is an event coming up in Cornwall next week.

Something is in the air. Just when you thought it was safe at the bottom of the garden – when the whole notion of the ‘little people’ had been consigned to effete affectation – the idea of fairies seems to be making a comeback. What is going on?

Some years ago, I tried to track down the Fairy Investigation Society, founded by Sir Quentin Craufurd in the 1920s, and designed to promote serious study. Over the years, it managed to attract a number of prominent supporters, including Walt Disney and the Battle of Britain supremo Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, whose career was not helped by his public expressions of belief.

But by the 1970s, the Society could stand the cynical public climate no longer and it went underground. I wrote to their last known address outside Dublin, when I was first interested in these things, and had a strange letter back. It was from a man claiming that he knew the society’s secretary, but he said he didn’t want to talk to anybody. 

Not only the fairies had disappeared, but the fairy researchers seemed to have fled as well.

So why are they staging a comeback? Partly I think because they are an antidote to Tesco and the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement. There does seem to be something about fairies which not only recognises the mystery, hidden life and sheer magic of woods, forests and the natural world, but which also flies in the face of brute fact.

Partly because, as Brian Froude said on the Countryfile clip, they are the spiritual personification of natural processes.  I could go for that, natural features seem from different dimensions.  Certainly I prefer to live in a world where there are parallel ways of looking at reality, just as there are shades of opinion, than the miserable cut-and-dried utilitarian world I seem to have been born into.

Will this admission help my career in the world of think-tanks and politics? Almost certainly not. But, when all is said and done, we do need to stand up for a bit of magic.

“A man can’t always do as he likes,” said John Ruskin in his Slade lecture ‘Fairyland’ in 1893, “but he can always fancy what he likes.” One of the problems for 20th century audiences was, of course, that Ruskin did rather fancy fairies – or at least their human equivalent. But let’s leave that on one side. The point is that fairies were for him, and maybe also for us, an antidote to grim reality.

All of which is a way of saying that my own novel about fairies Leaves the World to Darkness (it's for grown-ups; there is sex in it) is now published as an ebook by Endeavour Press.

It is my small contribution to undermining the utilitarian consensus.


Louise said...

Well David, I'm Irish on my Dad's side and he always talked about the Little People and we definitely had fairies at the end of our garden when I was a child!

Anonymous said...

Cheers, David! Ironically, have currently been finishing up the research re: 'faery music'... ! Go figure! -- Karen