Thursday, 30 November 2017

Fairy Folklore in Books & Films

Alas I have no explorations and adventures to tell you about today, instead I thought it would be fun to compile a list of fiction containing fairy folklore themes, as well as movies and TV shows featuring fairy folklore! Please feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments, and i'll try and update the list every so often!

I've made a conscious decision not to include Amazon links to each book. I like Amazon as much as the next person for quick and convenient shopping, but I'd really like to encourage readers to shop in your local book shops as much as possible. I know they're not always the cheapest, but if we don't support local book shops, there will be no book shops!

Last quick note.... as I read some of these books many many years ago, and some are still sitting unread on my book shelf, I need a helping hand describing the plot. Where you see quotes in the book descriptions below, I've taken the quote from the author or publisher's blurb!


A coming of age tale about young Adam who moves to Cornwall, meets his grandfather for the first time, and spends his days listening to his grandfather's tales of local fairies and exploring the local deep and mossy woodlands. But something in the woods seems to be watching him, and he starts realising that perhaps the fairy tales aren't just tales after all. This is one of my top fairy fiction books, I couldn't put it down, the author really knows his fairy folklore, full of the deep magic of the old ways. 

"The town records have it listed as Erl King Hill - 'Hill of the Elf King'. To the locals it is known simply as the old Kessler Place. A great ramshackle house, it stands among deep woods, full of memories and myth. There are strange stories about the old place: talk of haunted woods, strange lights that dance like fire, buried treasure and lost children, now long forgotten. Successful screenwriter Phil Hastings decides to move his family from sunny California to a ramshackle farmhouse in New York State. The idea is to take some time out, relax and pick up the threads of his career as a novelist. Good plan, bad choice. The place they choose is surrounded by ancient woodland. The house they choose is the centrepoint of a centuries-old evil intent on making its presence felt to intruders." This was the first fairy fiction book I ever read many years ago, and I keep meaning to re-read it as I remember it being superb! Would thoroughly recommend!

"Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But her boyfriend just dumped her, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk-and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point." I'm embarrassed to admit I've never read this classic, I assure you it's sat on my shelf waiting though!

"For Thom Kindred, life is nothing spectacular. A stroke victim, Thom finds himself partially incapacitated and battling daily to regain control of his life. Moved by haunting dreams of his youth, he travels back to the wooded land where he grew up to recuperate. Surrounded by the comforts of Castle Bracken, Thom plans to relive old, forgotten memories. But Thom's return has stirred an ancient evil at Castle Bracken, one cloaked in the guise of a friend. His only chance for survival lies in a world that he no longer believes in." Definitely an adults-only dark fairy tale, plenty of terrifying moments with a few supernatural erotic scenes thrown in for good measure!

"They have lived among us for centuries-distant, separate, just out of sight. They fill our myths, our legends, and the stories we tell our children in the dark of night. They come from the air, from water, from earth, and from fire. What are these creatures that enjoin out imagination? Faeries. Megan is an artist who draws seascapes. Jonah owns a shop devoted to treasures from the deep. Their lives, so strongly touched by the ocean, become forever intertwined when enchanting people of the sea lure them further into the underwater world-and away from each other." I'm a huge Patricia McKillip fan and i'm so glad to see this long out of print book has been released as an ebook now! Part of the Brian Froud Faerielands series.

"A young artist returns to her cabin in the deep woods of Canada to concentrate on her illustrations. But somehow, strange and beautiful creatures are slipping into her drawings and sketches. The world of Faerie is reaching out to her for help--and she may be its last chance for survival." Charles de Lint is another favourite author of mine, and quite possibly the king of urban mythic fantasy!

"When the centuries-barren orchards of Berrie-on-the-Wyn suddenly bear fruit, it is clear that something strange is afoot - and something fey, for this is no ordinary harvest. To partake of the fruits of Faerie is to be changed for good, but not necessarily for the better. From whence come the golden apples, the moonlit silver pears? Who is the motley piper who walks the streets of Berrie, drawing forth magic and mayhem with his music? And how can half of the town vanish into thin air?"

"Consultant surgeon Tora Hamilton has moved to remote Shetland to be with her husband. To have a family. Not for this... In the peat soil near her new home she uncovers a perfectly preserved woman’s body. Runic symbols are carved into her skin. Her heart has been cut out. But as Tora begins to ask questions around the island, she receives her first threat..." This might sound like your run of the mill crime novel, but you're in for a surprise, it has a slight hint of trows! I thoroughly enjoyed it, Sharon Bolton is a wonderful writer, and it was nice to see trow folklore appear where you least expect it!

"Rowan, Meg, Priscilla, and their little brother, James, are off to the English countryside to stay with relatives at the Rookery. The children are looking forward to exploring the ancient mansion and perhaps discovering a hidden secret or two. Little do they know this is a seventh summer. Every seventh summer, a fairy war is fought on the Green Hill--to the death--with a human champion. And Rowan has been chosen as one of the champions. Meg is desperate to save her brother. But the Midsummer War is far more than a battle between mythic creatures: Everything that lives depends on it. How can Meg choose between family and the fate of the very land itself?" I haven't read this one yet but it is on my bookshelf, and there's a sequel now too! Recommended for ages 9 to 12.

"Something is missing from Ewan and Colby’s lives. Residing in the corners of their memories is their time in Limestone Kingdom, a realm filled with magic and mystery, a world where only some may travel amongst the menagerie of mystical souls and sinister demons." A tale of a boy who was stolen by the fairies as a baby, and another boy who befriends a wish granting djinn.

"Do you believe in faeries? Not the soft, gentle kind, but the sinister, feral kind - the ones that wreak havoc on everything in their path... As a small child Kaye used to talk to faeries. Now at sixteen she is fierce and independent, travelling from city to city with her mother's rock band, until an ominous attack forces them to return to her childhood home and friends. Once there, Kaye discovers that her childhood memories were real and she is drawn into a secret faerie world by an attraction that she is unable to fight." Aimed at young adults, and the first in a series.

Collections of Short Stories

The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm, ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
A fantastical collection of tales from authors including Charles de Lint, Delia Sherman, Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman, and Hiromi Goto. One of the best fairy story compilations out there!

The Fair Folk, Six Tales of the Fey, ed Marvin Kaye
A collection of six tales including the stories "The Kelpie" by Patricia A. McKillip, "Except the Queen" by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder, and "UOUS" by Tanith Lee. A great compilation of fairy fiction by some top authors!

"Seven bewitching tales to draw you into a world of fairy tales and magick, a world of devilish debts, trysts and trades, of broken bargains and unjust trials, of quick-wittedness, of hoodwinking, of revenge." I haven't read this one yet but it's on my bookshelf patiently waiting!

"Meet Robin Goodfellow as you’ve never seen him before, watch damsels in distress rescue themselves, get swept away with the selkies and enjoy tales of hobs, green men, pixies and phookas. One thing is for certain, these are not your grandmother’s fairy tales. Fairies have been both mischievous and malignant creatures throughout history. They’ve dwelt in forests, collected teeth or crafted shoes. Fae is full of stories that honor that rich history while exploring new and interesting takes on the fair folk from castles to computer technologies and modern midwifing, the Old World to Indianapolis."

Faeries: Isaac Asimov's Magical Worlds of Fantasy 
"Here, in eighteen captivating journeys into the enchanting Faery lands, you'll find all sorts of enchanted creatures: from the Faerie Queen and King to the mischievous Brownies, from those who prey on the gullibility of humans to those who have been tricked out of their treasures by ordinary men and women. You'll witness mortals being held for a few brief hours in the timeless kingdom-only to find themselves returned to a world no longer their own. But beware, lest the spell of Faerie touch you, too, and force you to wander forever through Isaac Asimov's magical fantasy world."

Traditional Ballads Retold

The Perilous Gard, Elizabeth Marie Pope
"In 1558, while exiled by Queen Mary Tudor to a remote castle known as Perilous Gard, young Kate Sutton becomes involved in a series of mysterious events that lead her to an underground world peopled by Fairy Folk—whose customs are even older than the Druids’ and include human sacrifice." A wonderful retelling of the Tam Lin story for young adults, but I enjoyed it too!

"When Jenny is chosen as a potential bride for William de Warenne, brother of the king of Scotland and heir to the crown, redemption of her family's name seems within reach. Amid formal banquets and jousting tournaments, she struggles to impress the aloof Earl William. At the same time, however, she finds herself drawn to Tam Lin, a mysterious young man. Rumored to have been kidnapped by fairies, Tam harbors a dark secret from his past that threatens everyone close to him . . . including Jenny." Another great retelling of the story of Tam Lin for young adults, thoroughly enjoyed it!

"In the ancient Scottish ballad "Tam Lin," headstrong Janet defies Tam Lin to walk in her own land of Carterhaugh... and then must battle the Queen of Faery for possession of her lover’s body and soul. In this version of "Tam Lin," masterfully crafted by Pamela Dean, Janet is a college student, "Carterhaugh" is Carter Hall at the university where her father teaches, and Tam Lin is a boy named Thomas Lane. Set against the backdrop of the early 1970s, imbued with wit, poetry, romance, and magic."

Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones
"The fire and hemlock photograph above Polly’s bed sparks memories in her that don’t seem to exist any more. Halloween; nine years ago; she gatecrashed a funeral party at the big house and met Thomas Lynn for the first time. Despite the fact that he’s an adult, they struck up an immediate friendship, and began making up stories together – stories in which Tom is a great hero, and Polly is his assistant. The trouble is, these scary adventures have a nasty habit of coming true… But what has happened in the years between? Why has Tom been erased from Polly’s mind, and from the rest of the world as well? Gradually Polly uncovers the awful truth and, at Halloween nine years on, realises that Tom’s soul is forfeit to demonic powers unless she can save him." A modern day retelling of the Ballad of Tam Lin aimed at young people aged 11 and up.

Thomas the Rhymer, Ellen Kushner
"A minstrel lives by his words, his tunes, and sometimes by his lies. But when the bold and gifted young Thomas the Rhymer awakens the desire of the powerful Queen of Elfland, he finds that words are not enough to keep him from his fate. As the Queen sweeps him far from the people he has known and loved into her realm of magic, opulence—and captivity—he learns at last what it is to be truly human. When he returns to his home with the Queen’s parting gift, his great task will be to seek out the girl he loved and wronged, and offer her at last the tongue that cannot lie."

For a very thorough list of books with links to the story of Tam Lin, visit the website.

Stolen Children and Changelings

"Seven-year-old Henry Day is kidnapped by fairy changelings living in the dark forest near his home - ageless beings whose secret community is threatened by encroaching modern life. They give Henry a new name, Aniday, and the gift of agelessness - now and forever, he will be seven years old. The group has left another child in Henry's place. This changeling boy, who has morphed himself into Henry's duplicate, must adjust to a new way of life and hide his true identity from the Day family. But he can't hide his extraordinary talent for the piano, and his near-perfect performances prompt his father to suspect that he is an impostor. As he grows older the new Henry Day becomes haunted by vague but persistent memories of life in another time and place. Both Henry and Aniday search obsessively for who they were before they changed places in the world." A most peculiarly wonderful book, completely strange but hard to put down!

"It is Christmas afternoon and Peter Martin gets an unexpected phone call from his parents, asking him to come round. It pulls him away from his wife and children and into a bewildering mystery. He arrives at his parents' house and discovers that they have a visitor. His sister Tara. Not so unusual you might think, this is Christmas after all, a time when families get together. But twenty years ago Tara took a walk into the woods and never came back and as the years have gone by with no word from her the family have, unspoken, assumed that she was dead. Now she's back. Tara seems happy enough but there is something about her. A haunted, otherworldly quality. Some would say it's as if she's off with the fairies. And as the months go by Peter begins to suspect that the woods around their homes are not finished with Tara and his family.."

"Laura Lensky’s daughter, Peri, has been missing for two years. For the police it’s a closed case – she wanted to run away – but for her mother and boyfriend, Henry, it’s a different story. When Laura hires private investigator Ian Kennedy, it is a last-ditch attempt to find her daughter before she leaves for America. Drawn in by strange parallels to an obscure Celtic myth and his first, almost unexplainable case, Ian takes the job. But his beliefs are about to be stretched to their limit – there are darker and more devious forces at work here than any of them imagined."

"Nóra, bereft after the sudden death of her beloved husband, finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheál. Micheál cannot speak and cannot walk and Nóra is desperate to know what is wrong with him. What happened to the healthy, happy grandson she met when her daughter was still alive? Mary arrives in the valley to help Nóra just as the whispers are spreading: the stories of unexplained misfortunes, of illnesses, and the rumours that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley." An interesting take on the changeling story, in the wonderful setting of 1820's Ireland.

"A remote island off the west coast of Ireland, St Brigid's, is a barren landscape, its small community dwindling. But, according to rumour, it is a magical place, a home to a healing well. Rose and Emer have resisted the call to the mainland. They are sisters but opposites in every way. Rose, beautiful and blessed with a large family, dotes on the bitter and defiant Emer. When a stranger arrives in search of a miracle, the islanders are determined to keep their secrets close. Little do they realise that the stranger's quest will endanger the lives of all who remain on the island."

Selkies and Fairies of the Sea

The Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan "Rollrock is an isolated, windswept island; a wild and salty landscape where fishermen and their families must wring a living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of eerie magic, and of powerful desire. Down on the beach, the outcast witch of Rollrock casts her spells, and draws mysterious girls from the sea. These are girls with long, pale limbs and faces of haunting innocence - the most enchantingly beautiful creatures the fishermen of Rollrock have ever seen. The island is envied, and many a man is lured to Rollrock with the promise of a sea wife. But the arrival of these women is the ruin of countless families - and to the despair of the men of Rollrock, magic always has its price. The brides do not belong on land. One day, the sea will claim them back." A truly wonderful book, I thoroughly enjoyed it!


"Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous ...and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives - not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?Based on the legend of the selkies - seals who can transform into people - Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice."

Secret Of The Ron Mor Skerry, Rosalie K. Fry
"Fiona McConville is a child of the Western Isles, living on the Scottish mainland. City life doesn't suit Fiona and at age ten she is sent back to her beloved isles to live with her grandparents. There she learns more about her mother's strange ways with the seals and seabirds; hears stories of the selkies, mythological creatures that are half seal and half human; and wonders about her baby brother, Jamie, who disappeared long ago but whom fishermen claim to have seen." This is the wonderful book that the movie The Secret of Roan Inish was based on and it was out of print until it was published again earlier this year. Aimed at children aged 8 - 12, but definitely one for my Christmas list!

"The only life Gioga has ever known is that of a fisherman's daughter on remote Hamna Voe. But as a baby she was a gift of the sea to childless Munroe and Jannet, and now the Lord of the Oceans wants her back. Torn between her love for her adopted parents and her strange attraction to the seal people, which will she choose - the sea or the land?" A selkie novel for ages 9 to 11.

A Stranger Came Ashore, Mollie Hunter
"When Finn Learson literally stumbles out of a stormy sea into a small village on the Shetland Isles, he steals the villagers' hearts. He's handsome and charming, he helps with the fishing and the harvest, and he's particularly drawn to Robbie's older sister Elspeth, with her beautiful long golden hair. Yet there's something about Finn that makes Robbie and his dog Tam feel uneasy. Haunted by local tales of the Selkie folk, Robbie suspects there's more to Finn than meets the eye. But who would believe Robbie's wild suspicions?" Another great selkie tale for children, recommended for ages 8 to 12 but I loved it too! Originally published in 1975 and still in print today!

A beautifully illustrated picture book that will be appreciated by both children and adults, focusing on the legend of the selkie. Full page illustrations so would work well as a bedtime story for young children too, why not get them interested in folklore at a young age!

Trolls and Fairies of other Countries

"In the late 1970s, a young boy disappears from a summer cabin in the Swedish woods. His mother claims that he was abducted by a giant. The boy is never found. Twenty-five years later, an old woman claims that a creature has been standing outside her house, observing her and her five year old grandson for hours. When Susso - a blogger who's dedicated her life to the search for creatures whose existences have not been proved - hears of this, and sees a possible link between the two incidents, she takes to the road on a terrifying adventure into the unknown." A creepy magical tale of woodland creatures and trolls in Sweden, truly bizarre in places, but very wonderful. I loved it.

"In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church." Although not about fairies as we know them in the UK, i'm including this for the wonderful portrayal of household spirits including the wonderful domovoi!

Fairy Humour

"Plagued by pixies, goaded by goblins or bothered by gnomes? Help is on the way! Help is here. This is the essential primer for banishing the dark Fairy creatures that are lurking in the dark corners and crevices of your life." This book is truly hilarious, a must read for any fairy folklorist!

"There’s a new threat in town – and it’s only twelve inches tall. How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack is the only comprehensive survival guide that will help you prevent, prepare for, and ward off an imminent home invasion by the common garden gnome."

A Fairy Find, Andrew Lanyon
""A Fairy Find" begins with the discovery of a cache of wands. Not only does this provide evidence that the sprites are at large, it also opens the door onto a parallel universe in which we humans exist purely for the amusement of our fairy keepers and reveals that our continued existence hangs by a gossamer thread of fairy whim. Using happenstance images and curious captions, Andrew Lanyon offers a tantalizing glimpse of the tiny, capricious creatures that pull our strings, trip us up, and bend us to their mischievous ends. With words and pictures, this masterpiece of soft surrealism is an irresistible and offbeat gift." A strange collection of old images with added fairy interpretations, forming a completely bizarre book that is utterly genius and extremely amusing!

A most perfect way to introduce children to fairy folklore, and adults too! I'm a huge fan of Brian Froud's books and I love the way he's not afraid to show both the dark and light sides of fairy lore, and the back sides too in the case of Lady Cottington's pressed fairy book!!

Fairy Folklore in TV and Movies

I love a nice dusty old library full of folklore books as much as the next folklorist, but there’s something wonderful about finding folklore in the most unexpected of places, like the BBC or Netflix! Below is a list of my favourite TV series and films containing fairy folklore....

My favourite fairy film! Eight year old Sally is sent to live with her dad and his new partner (Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes) in their beautiful and foreboding Victorian mansion, but there's something sinister living in the basement, and for once it's something original and different... strange fairy goblin like creatures! The goblins are curious and intelligent, extremely sinister, and I love the folkloric elements to the film. There’s also an accompanying book available called
Blackwood's Guide to Dangerous Fairies, but unfortunately it’s out of print and hard to find these days. This is a remake of an older movie, but I think it’s far better than the original in my opinion.

I think you’ve probably all already seen this one, but it certainly deserves a mention for bringing trolls back into the mainstream media in all of their horror and gruesomeness. Some students investigating a series of bear killings stumble across a mysterious man, the troll hunter, and follow him on his mission to eliminate some dangerous out of control trolls. Such a brilliant film, thoroughly recommended!

A Swedish supernatural drama about a police inspector whose daughter went missing seven years ago beside a lake in a forest. Now a boy has vanished too, and she thinks there may be a connection. Although it sounds like a generic crime drama, there is a wonderful supernatural undercurrent of Scandinavian mythology, woodland spirits, and fairy folklore. I'm currently watching the second series on ITV player!

This seven part TV adaptation is a thoroughly pleasant surprise! Beautifully filmed with stunning costumes and sets, and the actors are superb. A sort of historical supernatural drama with a twist of
scholarly occultism and a sprinkling of magic, set in an alternative 19th century England where magic is alive but rarely practiced. The reclusive and scholarly Mr Norrell seeks to make magic respectable again, but unfortunately goes about it in the most unrecommended of ways, involving a pact with a fairy and bringing back the dead! Who wouldn’t want afternoon tea with the gentleman with the thistledown hair, or a wander through a wood paneled dusty old library full of rare occult books! I really really really should get around to reading the book this adaptation is based upon.

Call me a big kid, but I love Spiderwick! Twin brothers and their sister move into the run-down Spiderwick Estate, where their distant relative / scientist Arthur Spiderwick disappeared 80 something years ago. They discover a secret world full of fairies, goblins, and mythical creatures, and the good news is they have Arthur’s notebook to guide them. The bad news is, the goblins and ogres want it too! A great family movie, and not a pretty winged glittery fairy in sight. A great way to introduce fairy folklore to a younger audience, and I thoroughly recommend the many books and accompanying guides too. There’s everything from pop up books to a guide to keeping sprites!

This one is getting hard to find in the UK on DVD, but it’s worth it if you can find it. An Irish tale of a girl who is sent to live with her grandparents after the death of her mother. There on the west coast of Ireland she learns of the Selkies, and finds her family heritage may be more intertwined with them than first appears. The film is an adaptation of Rosalie Fry's Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, which has just been released after being out of print for a long time! A beautiful movie, and a great honest telling of the myths of the Selkie.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Selkies, I should mention this wonderful animation too. The IMDB blurb sums it up well: Ben, a young Irish boy, and his little sister Saoirse, a girl who can turn into a seal, go on an adventure to free the fairies and save the spirit world. A very pretty film with a beautiful soundtrack, and a great introduction to folklore for young children.

A locally made film by the Chagford Filmmaking Group, and available to purchase through their website. A beautiful and honest retelling of the folkloric tale of Cherry of Zennor, about a spirited girl who leaves home in search of adventure, and meets a mysterious gentleman and potential employer with an air of the fae about him. The group have also released their take on the Orcadian Peerifool tale too, and I’m very much looking forward to their retelling of the Tam Lin story too, a favourite tale of mine.

Thale (2012)
Norwegian fantasy horror in which a pair of cleaners discover a mythical creature in a basement, who bears a striking resemblance to the huldra, an alluring creature from Norwegian folklore who lured men to their death. I saw this many years ago and can't remember it too well, which might be a bad sign!!

The Gnome-Mobile (1967)
My husband will be glad to see that I’m not recommending the Gnome Mobile. I will refrain from mentioning how wonderfully cheesy it is and how it has the most annoyingly good catchy song in it that you just won’t be able to stop singing! It’s also the perfect song to play in the car, on repeat, on long journeys!

Any Recommendations?

If you've made it this far to the bottom of the blog post without buying any new books or movies, congratulations on having amazing self-control! Please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments section, and if you've written a book containing fairy folklore don't forget to add a link to your author page and tell me more about your book. I'll try and update this page now and then with new additions!


Emma Cooper said...

Thanks for sharing such a mega list! I'm a huge Charles de Lint fan, so I will be checking out some of the other authors you recommend :)

David McKinley said...

After reading your blog for a while I have to tell you how impressed I am not just by the beautiful presentation, but also by your extensive use and citing of pre-20th century sources. That's rare nowadays when so many books seem to display a profound ignorance of traditions in favor of New Age claptrap and feelgood fakelore.

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hi Emma - Patricia McKillip is well worth a read if you hadn't tried her books before. The Changeling Sea and Winter Rose are two of my favourites!

Hi David - Thank you so much! Searching through old sources is one of my joys in life, I'm definitely more of a researcher than a writer! I love tracing a story back to it's roots, never know what you'll find!

David McKinley said...

I'm the same way. It's amusing when you come across some weird characteristic ascribed to an individual faery in the old sources, and it's conveniently ignored by modern writers because they apparently couldn't make sense of it. I think they just need to turn off their rational minds and realize that these beings simply refuse to abide by the rules of human logic. Once you think you have the fae pinned down they have a way of sneaking up on you and giving you a hard pinch for your presumption.