Writing Fairies

It’s funny how publishing works.  My first Folkroots column hasn’t come out yet, and here I am working on my third.  My first one was about the femme fatale, my second one was about vampires, so I thought that for the third one I would focus on something lighter, more traditional fantasy fare. I chose fairies.

I have to write as much of the column as I can this week, since the next few weeks will be particularly busy for me. I thought you might be interested in the process, so I’ll be posting about writing the column as I write it. Today I thought I would post about how I begin.

I actually begin with the art.

I’ve chosen the art to include with the column, and of course I’m not going to post what I chose here. You’ll have to wait for the column, for that. But I will post some pictures that I decided not to include, and why.

The first picture I chose not to include was Titania and Bottom, by Henry Fuseli. It’s a beautiful painting, but rather dark. And I’m not sure I want to focus on particular fairies in the pictures, although I suspect that I’ll write about Titania and the Shakespearian fairies in the column itself.

The second picture I chose not to include was The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, by Richard Dadd. It’s just too busy. It’s not going to reproduce well in a magazine, particularly since it’s going to be smaller than this size. Online that wouldn’t be such a problem, because you could click on it and look at the details. But that’s not possible in a magazine, of course.

The third picture I chose not to include is La Belle Dame sans Merci, by John William Waterhouse. I wrote about the Belle Dame in my column on the femme fatale, and don’t want to use her image again so soon, even though the image I chose last time was a different one.

At least, I think I won’t be including those. I could still change my mind.

The second step is to locate my sources. Of course I started with the university library database. And I found some books that look useful and interesting, one on Elizabethan fairies and one on Victorian fairies. (Isn’t it interesting that both focus on eras named for queens? I wonder if fairies tend to become more prominent in eras when queens are ruling.) But in this instances, I knew that I would also find some sources online, because I knew there must be articles on fairies on the Journal of Mythic Arts website. And sure enough, I found two wonderful articles on fairies by Terri Windling:

Fairies in Legend, Lore, and Literature



I know those articles are going to help me figure out what I want to focus on, because this article can’t be longer than 5000 words. And anything Terri wrote, I know is thoroughly researched and reliable. I also want to make sure I know what Terri has written, because I don’t want to simply reproduce her work with my own research. I want to be able to offer my own interpretation of fairies, and then also tell readers where to find hers.

I have two more library books to look at, and a stack of my own books that will have information on fairies, including W.B. Yeats’ book on Irish fairy and folk tales. The problem with fairies is that there’s actually too much information out there. I’ll have to narrow it down first, figure out what is most important to look at. I think looking at Terri’s articles will help me do that, so I’ll start there.

I learn so much from writing these columns, and get so many story ideas. That makes all the work worthwhile.

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7 Responses to Writing Fairies

  1. Matt says:

    I’ll be particularly interested in following these posts. I really want to write a column for Folkroots at some point but haven’t the faintest idea where/how to start.

  2. rushmc says:

    What good timing. I thought this would interest you a couple of days ago when I came across it, but your email not working, I’ve held onto it.


  3. Alan Yee says:

    (Isn’t it interesting that both focus on eras named for queens? I wonder if fairies tend to become more prominent in eras when queens are ruling.)

    That’s a very interesting point, something that I hadn’t noticed before. You don’t really hear much about Plantagenet fairies or Georgian fairies or pre-Elizabethan Tudor fairies. Maybe it’s because the reigning English queens tended to live longer on average than the kings, which gave a much larger time period for an entire era to be named after them. Or maybe the queens simply liked fairies better the kings did and requested more literature, poetry, and plays to be written about them. It’s something I might look into sometime.

  4. Both those articles started out as Folkroots columns, years ago….

  5. Post script: We devoted a whole issue of the Journal of Mythic Arts to fairies (Summer 2006) — to which you contributed a lovely piece on Hungarian fairies, my dear, that your readers might like to know about….

  6. Nathan says:

    La Belle Dame sans Merci is how I discovered Waterhouse. It’s also what really lit the fire in me for fantasy. There is so much danger, and love, and passion in that painting. It still stirs me.

  7. Thanks for your comments, everyone! I haven’t had much time to work on the column recently, but I’ll keep posting about it. Terri, thanks for reminding me of the fairy issue! Rushmc, I’ve only had a chance to take a quick look, but how lovely! Thank you! Matt, the way to start is to contact me, since I’m the editor! 🙂

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