Morgan Daimler is the author of a series of books about fairies and fairydom. She writes in her introduction to this new one from Pagan Portals that “this book is mean to be something of a very loose guide for seekers of Fairy to find this vibrant world.” Since I have only a passing acquaintance with this subject, this may not have been the best book for me to start with. But I was intrigued by the 21st century focus and chose to read this book even before reading her others.
In 21st Century Fairy, Daimler posits the question of whether fairies evolve. By that, she doesn’t mean whether they evolve as a species, but whether they “are capable of change and adaptation to the human world they interact with.” She thinks the answer is yes, and she begins to explain her answer by taking the reader back to how the presentation of fairies in popular culture has shifted over the centuries. Then she offers some of her current insights about “the fae” in current times.
In traditional folklore, fairies come in a range of sizes and forms and are able to shapeshift. It’s in the past few centuries that they came to be seen, in popular culture, as tiny, winged, and with pointed ears. Miniaturization, beginning around the 16th century, as early as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, made fairies seem less dangerous and, gradually, more the subjects of children’s stories and art. Wings on fairies let a theatrical audience know that an actor or actress was a fairy. Pointed ears came to be a feature because of Christianity’s need to portray elves and fairies as demons, and also as animalistic, which jives with the notion of fairies as nature spirits inhabiting wilderness settings.
In an especially interesting chapter, “Modern Fairyland,” Daimler notes that although we’re now in the 21st century, many people still conceive of fairies through a “primitive lens.” Her experience and that of others, though, is one in which otherworldly beings appear to humans in contemporary settings such as cities and train stations.
In Daimler’s opinion, many modern stories of aliens and alien abductions are really “fairies and fairy abductions re-framed to fit within 20th and 21st century human expectations.” Because in our times fairies have “largely become relegated to children’s stories and nostalgia,” there’s a “contextual void” for people who have otherworldly experiences. “This void was filled by fiction and film as popular culture embraced the idea of extra-terrestrials and our cultural consciousness became saturated by these new stories.”
Daimler also broaches the issue of racism in media representations. “Despite diversity in folkloric accounts and anecdotal accounts, when you ask most people to describe a fairy or elf they don’t usually picture a person of colour but often describe a fair-skinned, usually blond, being.” Fantasy books and role playing games have perpetuated the idea that fairies are light-skinned beings. That’s starting to change.
Daimler ends her book with recommendations for recent works of fiction that are changing how fairies are portrayed. She concludes that “human belief around fairies is shaped by fiction, which in turn shapes expectations and encounters… Are fairies themselves shaped by human belief or do they appear to us intentionally, as we expect, through their own magic?”
There’s no definitive answer to this question. But this enjoyable short book gives a reader a lot of food for thought.
~review by Sara R. Diamond
Author: Morgan Daimler
Moon Books, Pagan Portals, 2023
86 pp., $12.95