Enduring Tales: Fairies in the woods…


Frances and Elsie captured fairies on camera…

On 4th March, BBC News reported that the trustees of Wayford Woods in Crewkerne, Somerset have decided to curtail the number of ‘fairy doors’ which have been attached to the trees. See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-30687171

Apparently, at the start of this century, some unknown person had the imaginative idea of fitting a tiny door to one of the roots. After that, more and more appeared and now there are over 200, causing Wayford to be known as ‘the fairy woods’. This is further proof, if proof were needed, that we want to believe in these enticing little creatures.

Literature, throughout the years, resounds with references to fairies, both good and bad. Think, for example, of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Oberon and Titania reign supreme in the wood outside Athens. Or J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan with Tinkerbell (beloved of a large proportion of the male population after Disney’s depiction of her based on Marilyn Monroe), Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling and Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. In art we have representations by John Everett Millais, Arthur Rackham and, in a more sinister fashion, Richard Dadd. And who in their youth did not wait for a visit from ‘the tooth fairy’, who provided monetary compensation for the pain of having a tooth pulled?

The current news story reminds me of an event which occurred almost 100 years ago, In 1917. Two young girls, Elsie Wright (aged 16) and Frances Griffiths (aged 9), cousins from Cottingley in Yorkshire, produced photographs which appeared to show them associating with genuine fairies. The pictures came to the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories and enthusiastic spiritualist, who endorsed them and used them to illustrate an article in The Strand Magazine. Interest continued for the next sixty years and, although many dismissed them as fakes, there were plenty who considered them to be real. In 1966 Elsie even convinced a reporter from The Daily Express that she had “photographed her thoughts”.

Look at the pictures now (they are readily accessible on the internet) and it is hard to understand how they could ever have been accepted as authentic, but perhaps the reason that they were lies in the fact that people wanted to believe in fairies. Probably the same reason why people are placing miniature doors in the trees in Wayford Woods.

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I have been working for Oxford Open Learning since 2010 and love helping my students with their English and History courses. As a teacher and personal tutor, I have taught pupils from all around the world, aged from three to adult. I am often to be found with my head in a book and sometimes I have four or five on the go at the same time. I love learning about History and Art and am passionate about literature.

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