Real or not, fairies have been with us in literature and artwork for centuries.
"Lord, what fools these mortals be."
- Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Oldest References to Faeries
Trust the medieval world to bring us creatures of superstition that would stay with us in dreams and nightmares forever after. While thoughts of spirits and beings unseen have existed even longer, the first actual mention of fairies comes from the 12th century in a book by the historian Gervase of Tilbury (James, 2017). He wrote a book called Otia Imperialia (Recreation for an emperor), which took these old ideas of good and evil spirits and enchanted places to create what would become a prominent belief in faeries.
Faeries in Literature
The medieval world did more than believe in faeries - they feared them (James, 2017). As such, they weren't talked about, much less written about. When they did appear in books, it was as the subjects of fear or villains. This is clearly true in stories like the 12th century tales written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, in which Morgan le Fay is an instrument in King Arthur's death. It would take years more before fairies would make their appearance in literature - in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (Broome, 2008).
With Puck's antics and a peak into Titania and Oberon's relationship, Shakespeare introduced us to the idea that faeries might be mischievous spirits rather than evil ones (Broome, 2008). Once we learned to stop fearing faeries, we started playing with the idea of them more and more. Morgan le Fay used her magic against Arthur, C.S. Whether in Avalon, Narnia, or Middle Earth, literature has embraced faeries and as it did, so did our picture of who the fae are and how they relate to us.
Here's a (non-elist of famous, popular books that have had a huge impact on our changing views of faeries over the years:
1150 Vita Merlini (Life of Merlin) by Geoffrey of Monmouth
1600 Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare
1812 Children's and Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm (Jakob and Wilhelm)
1937 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
1950 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
1954 The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
1977 The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein
Faeries in Modern Culture
Nowadays, faeries have been reimagined in modern art not just . Wikipedia lists Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Brian Froud as modern influencers whose work was used in role-playing video games and movies to shape modern ideas of the fae (Fairy painting, 2019). Today, we see fairies in books, movies, games, artwork, and all forms of media. They are, perhaps forever, inextricably woven into our culture.
Thanks for reading!
Broome, F. 2008. How Shakespeare Changed Everything. Retrieved from https://faeriemagick.com/how-shakespeare-changed-everything/
(n.d.). Fairy. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/art/fairy
(2019, August 7). Fairy painting. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_painting
James, D. (2017, January 20). A Brief History of Fairies. Retrieved from http://fiveminutehistory.com/the-history-of-fairies/