Every Thursday, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn leads a group of fellow bloggers on “Tough Travels”, a trip through the tropes that populate the fantasy and sci-fi world, using Diane Wynne Jones’ hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as a guide.
This week’s subject is “Fae”:
There are so many possibilities here, even outside your typical urban fantasy. The ’80s were rife with contemporary fantasy novels that involved faeries and humans intermingling on the fringes of society, from John Crowley’s Little, Big to Charles de Lint’s work. Alas, I haven’t read many of these! So we’ll stick with what I’m familiar with, starting, of course, with…
Xantha — Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings
Dryads are fae, right? Right? In Greek mythology, probably, but in Eddings world? Not too much fairy-like with Queen Xantha, the leader of the dryads, no wings, no pixie dust. But this powerful woodland spirit is small, red-headed and practically immortal, so that’s kinda like a fairy. We’ll say so. Eddings’ dryads catch humans to reproduce, but they have a deep kinship with the Imperial family of Tolnedra, with dryads leaving their sacred grove to marry the leaders of the Borunes. The result is that Queen Ce’Nedra’s dryad blood makes her an ideal wife for the equally long-lived magician King Belgrarion.
Pressed Fairies — Lady Cottington’s
Pressed Fairy Book
by Terry Jones
Leave it to the twisted mind of a Monty Python alum to come up with this hilarious look at flattened fairies. Riffing off the Cottingley fairy hoax that captured England’s imagination (and fooled Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) in the early 20th century, Jones documents a young girl’s attempt at capturing images of the beautiful fairies that live in her garden. By squashing them in a notebook. The illustrations, by acclaimed fantasy artist Brian Froud, are hilarious, but sadly this comic gem is out of print. Calendars, day planners, journals and the like still occasionally turn up in remainder bins at big box stores, however.
Marge — The River of the Dancing Gods
by Jack L. Chalker
A series I loved as a teen, Jack Chalker’s foray into fantasy was a light parody featuring a pair of lost souls from Earth. Marge was a suicidal housewife who was travelling with the truck-driver Joe when they were picked up by the magician Throckmorton P. Ruddygore in order to fight a growing evil. Joe was transformed into a Conan-esque warrior complete with a magic sword named Irving, while Marge was transformed into a young magical adept. Turns out there was more to her transformation, as her magic use started changes, eventually leading to her blossoming into a kauri, a beautiful, orange fairy, whose powers derived from sex. Yeah, Chalker had a bit of that dirty old man fantasy writer thing going on.
Clurican — The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is all about fairies. His novels are just full of them. Heck, Stardust pretty takes place completely within the realm of Faerie. But Clurican, from his groundbreaking comic Sandman, is a personal favorite. A gay, hard-drinking raconteur, the Clurican acts as an envoy between Queen Titania and the King of Dreams. When Dream was given the key to Hell, Clurican was sent to persuade Morpheus to keep Hell closed, and offered his sister Nuala to Dream as a gift. He later returned to the Dreaming to free Nuala and unwittingly releases his nemesis, a horned doppelganger who shares almost all of Cluracan’s peccadillos.
The Gentleman with Thistledown Hair— Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
One thing I discovered when researching this delicious antagonist from the Susanna Clarke’s magnificent regency fantasy — when I’m sick, I can’t pronounce “Thistledown”. Not that it matters though, I’m not reciting the novel. The Gentleman is a king in Faerie, who, constantly meddles in the affairs of England, from enchanting the wife of a Lord so she spends half her life in Faerie — the nighttime hours, to summoning the African slave Stephen and plying him with treasure in an attempt to divine his true nature. While not exactly evil, he has no concept of humanity and his amoral and selfish actions place him in constant conflict with the titular English magicians.
Ariel — The Tempest by William Shakespeare
And we close with one of the archetypes of fae in literature. Ariel was a magical spirit who served the magician Prospero in Shakespeare’s final play. Imprisoned for twelve years in a tree by the witch Sycorax, Ariel was rescued by Prospero and swore fealty to the reclusive magician. Throughout the play he acts as Prospero’s spy as well as weaving spells for the old man. It is Ariel’s spell that causes the titular storm, and he invisibly watches the shipwrecked crew, engages in some matchmaking and helps foil the machinations of the evil spirit Caliban. As a reward, Prospero frees the spirit when he leaves the island.