Perhaps you think of Pinocchio's Blue Fairy, the Good Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, or Peter Pan's Tinkerbell when you imagine a fairy. But in fact, fairies don't like to be seen by people at all. These tiny creatures can appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. You may never know if you've seen one or not! But you can be sure of one thing: there is a wealth of fascinating lore about these little people who can vanish at will.
Who's Who of Fairies
The Banshee: This Irish fairy is more often heard than seen. Her mournful wail, called keening, is heard outside the home of a dying person.
The Bogeyman: Also called bogies or bugbears, these fairies are nasty to children and frighten them in the dark. Only children can see their furry bodies and fiery red eyes.
Fairy food is milk, cream, and butter.
Brownies: Brownies are helpful little men with brownish skin and brown clothing. They have been said to visit farms in Scotland and do household chores while the family sleeps. All they ask in return for their work is a bowl of cream.
Changelings: A changeling is a fairy child who takes the place of a human baby who the fairies think is being fussed over too much. The baby is then used to “strengthen” the fairy race.
Fantastic Illustration and Design in Britain 1850-1930, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Dwarfs: These aged creatures of the mountains are miners with magical powers. They won't appear aboveground in daylight because they'll turn to stone. They wear long clothes to cover their feet, which are deformed or point backward.
Elves: Elves are merry creatures who live in colonies under the earth. They love parties, music, and dancing, but they kidnap people who are caught listening to their music.
Flower fairies: In the gardens of China, flower fairies dress like young girls and spread the scent of flowers as they dance.
Many small cottages in Ireland built in a “fairy path” have front and back doors directly opposite each other which are left ajar to allow fairies free passage.
Gnomes: Gnomes are bearded men with broad, leathery features who never age and who always wear hoods. They guard hidden treasure in the woods and hills where they live.
Goblins: Goblins, the thieves of the fairy world, have a bad reputation. They have deformed bodies with huge, bulging eyes and live in underground caves.
Huldre: These Icelandic fairies look like beautiful girls from the front, but in back they may have cow tails or they may be one-sided. They demonstrate that beauty is only one part of something.
Faeries, edited by David Larkin, Peacock Press, Bantam Books
Jinni (genie): In Arabian folklore, these spirits have supernatural powers and can appear in many shapes and sizes. They may be good or evil, depending on their Master. They live in unusual places like empty bottles.
Leprechauns: These clever, independent little men wear three-cornered hats. They are shoemakers who make only one shoe, not a pair. Every leprechaun has a hidden pot of gold.
Menehunes: These hard-working Hawaiian fairies work at night building bridges and roads. They are small, dark-eyed creatures with shaggy eyebrows and deep, gruff voices.
Fairies love to dance and are fond of the music of fiddles, harps, tambourines, and cymbals.
Monaciello: This Italian fairy is dressed in a hooded robe. It comes out at night to lead poor and needy people to hidden treasure.
Pixies: These green dancing fairies have a king, a queen, and a full royal court. Pixies live in England, where they pull pranks on people.
Sandman: He travels the world over, sprinkling sleep dust in children's eyes to help them fall asleep.
“Elf locks” are tangles of hair made by pesty fairy elves.
Tooth fairy: No one has seen a tooth fairy, so their appearance has not been described. When a child's tooth falls out, the tooth fairy takes it away and leaves a reward in its place.
Trolls: Trolls, usually men, may be huge or tiny, but they are all stingy and nasty. They hate the light and loud noises.
Vilas: These fairy sisters live in the Alps, where they heal the sick and foretell the future.
A sock under the bed helps to keep troublesome fairies away.
The Fantasy Book, Macmillan Publishers, New York
Wanagemeswah: Thin as a knife, this fairy lived among the Penobscot Indians of Maine in the U.S.
Will-o'-wisps: Will-o'-wisps are mischievous fairies who light up on dark nights. They snatch the lights of travelers and try to lead them astray.