"'Stuff and fabrication!' said the Rabbit picking up another acorn and balancing it on the very tip of his pink nose. 'Nobody believes in fairies nowadays.'"
I'm sure you've heard of Alice's adventures in Wonderland... but did you know that Alice also visited Fairyland? In a later book written by Brenda Girvin and illustrated by Dorothy Furness (first published 1916), Alice traveled around England, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Ireland meeting folkloric creatures, from Waterhorses to Red Caps, Boggarts to Duergars, and Trows to the Wag-at-the-Wa! I first picked up this book as Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite stories, but I was surprised to see how folklore based it is and how much research has gone into it. The appendix has some helpful notes on books and sources, and the author tells which tales she collected orally. A beautiful mix of fairy folklore and creative story telling that will inspire fairy folklorists, both young and old!
The book begins when Alice visits a professor of folklore in Devizes. He describes the types of fairies to Alice and she asks if he made them all up himself...
"The professor nearly jumped out of the big leather arm-chair. 'What's that, what's that? Tut-tut! Gracious me, gracious me! Bless you child, bless you!' He was horrified at Alice's remark. 'I-I make it up? He stuttered and stammered. 'Make it all up, make it all up? Did I make it all up - make up a study which is centuries old? Why, all the likes and dislikes of the fairies, their habitations, their mode of travel, their tricks and fancies, have been handed down from generation to generation. For hundreds of years mothers all over the world have been telling their children where and how the fairies live.
These stories of the fairies sprang into being long before printing was invented. In those early days the mothers had no fairy books from which to read to their children, so they made up tales of their own, taking for the setting the river running through the village, the mountain towering above it, or the meadows that lay around it, Thus a certain story became associated with a certain locality.
So the mothers who lived round Dartmoor told their children stories of the Pixies; the mothers of the Border country frightened their little boys into being good with tales of the cruel Redcaps; the Welsh mothers warned their children against being led into the fairy ring by the Ellyllon; and the Irish mothers, who are full of pretty fancies, whispered to their babies at bed-time tales of the beautiful Sidhe.'
When Alice realised that fairy-knowledge is a treasure handed down from ever so long ago, she grew absorbed in it, and longed to hear more and more about it. 'I want to know everything,' she said. 'Please tell me all you know.'"
The professor is called away and Alice picks up a book called Fairy Mythology. 'To get to Fairyland you must stumbled on it' she reads, as she stumbles over the tapestry footstool and finds herself in a glade in Devonshire with the White Rabbit. And so her adventures begin! I'll include below a selection of the illustrations from the book and some wonderful quotes, I hope you enjoy them as much as I have...
Devonshire Pixies: "'Quick, Rabbit!' Alice cried. 'To Mother Hambly's cottage.' They reach the cottage just in time, for as they ran up the garden path many bundles of blue rags came tumbling, running, twirling, laughing, over the brow of the hill.
Alice flung open the door of the cottage: 'Mother Hambly - Mother Hambly! she cried, 'light a lamp, let it burn for three days and nights, and put a pair of open scissors in your dear little baby's cot. If you do not do what I tell you, in the morning you will find him gone and in his place an ugly Pixy changeling.'"
The Bogle: "He had barely time to compose himself, however, when he saw such a fearsome sight that he nearly jumped out of his skin. Suddenly out of the darkness there appeared an enormous black cat whose every whisker stood apart, whose eyes blazed, whose tail bristled, and whose back made a complete arch. The White Rabbit thought he was an ordinary cat; he would have been twice as terrified if he had known he was a Bogle, the fairy who punishes the mischievous by turning himself into a cat and frightening them."
The Lancashire Boggart: "'Ever heard the story of the Boggart who went to live in a farmer's cupboard?' asked the gamekeeper. The pair shook their heads. 'Well, he had a little boy of five years old. Whenever the poor wee fellow took his bread and milk the Boggart would slip behind him and knock the spoon out of his hand, so that he would spill the food all over his clothing. When he kept the tit-bit till the end, the Boggart would be sure to steal it from his plate when he was not looking.'"
Red Caps: "At last dawn came, and with the morning light they saw many wizened-looking little men with lank hair, blood-shot eyes, and claws for fingers, kneeling on the ground and holding out their caps to catch the blood which was trickling from the Rabbit's paw. 'Shoo-shoo!' said Alice, shaking her skirts at them. 'Go away, you nasty spiteful things!' But they would not be driven off until their caps were scarlet. This is why they are called Redcaps, for, when they have pelted the travellers, they make their caps red in the blood which flows from the scratches. When the sun rose the Redcaps vanished." (Sadly there are no illustrations of the Red Caps!)
Wag-at-the-Wa: "It was Alice who caught sight of the little grizzly old man seated on the crook. He had short twisted legs, and a long tail; and was wrapped in a grey cloak, while the remains of an old cap was pulled down well on to his head. 'Oh! you poor little man!' cried Alice running forward. 'Do be careful or you'll fall into the fire.' She put out her arm to lift him down, but the little creature wagged his head and wound his tail tightly about him. 'I always sit on the crook,' he said. 'That's why you're crooked,' said the Rabbit, for not only were the little man's legs twisted but one side of his face was much larger than the other. Poor little fellow! he had toothache so often that he quite missed the pain when it was not there."
"'As well as walking the wrong way round I suppose you sleep the wrong way round, and that is why you are awake in the daytime?' 'No-no,' said the Trow. 'We do sleep in the day. It is the sun's fault that I'm awake now, it rose earlier than usual this morning. I was above grass when it came over the hill-top, and when a Trow is above grass at sunrise he is unable to return to his home till moonrise, and is what we call - daybound. That means he must stay in the sight of man until nightfall.' (curiously, the Trows want to steal Alice so Rabbit and the Good Wife surround her with pots and pans as the Trows cannot steal her if there are pots and pans around her head!)
The Sleagh Maiths: "Humans can only talk to Sleagh Maiths if they have their eyes shut, so the first indication Alice and the White Rabbit had of the Sleagh Maith's presence was when they felt their eyelids being held down by dainty fingers. 'Hi-eye!' joked the Rabbit, 'stop it! and whatever it isn't don't do it! 'I'm a Sleagh Maith,' said the fairy. And when he spoke it was in a jerky way; it sounded like the screeching of bats. 'Cure scratches'"
Dracae: "Then Dour Angus told them the Dracae was a watersprite living at the bottom of the river. She loves to get mortals into her power to service and wait upon her, so she sends an enchanted golden cup floating down the stream. Whenever a mortal lifts it out he falls into her power, and she caries him to the bottom of the stream and makes him work for her. If Alice and the Rabbit had taken hold of the cup they would have been obliged to serve the Dracae for seven years."
The Water-Kelpie: "There sprang out of the lake, so it nearly knocked me down, the biggest, the blackest, the beautifullest, the boldest, the bristliest black horse that you ever set eyes upon. His eyes were as red as scarlet poppies, and flamed like torches. It was a hundred - a hundred thousand - a million times as big as any horse i'd ever seen; its breath was so hot that it boiled the water in the loch and made it bubble and steam."
The Ourisk: "Coming towards them as a hairy creature about the size of a goat, a clumsy lubber with an elfin head and animal ears. 'D-d'you think he'll bite? stammered the Rabbit, who was inclined to be frightened of the rough-looking creature. But Alice felt instinctively that the Ourisk would not hurt them. She was right, for his nature is not terrifying. He is more like a dear faithful dog than a cruel creature; and all he asks is a kindly word and a gentle caress from humans, whom he delights to serve, by being harnessed for their use." (Not your typical Urisk indeed!)
Shellycoat: "So they waited until day broke, and then they saw a most aggravating picture. Sitting on the top of a wave, laughing at them, was a wee man, with a coat made of shells, and a cap from seaweed, who was chuckling and laughing at them. 'Help-help-help!' he mocked, and he laughed and laughed again. Alice and the White Rabbit knew they had been tricked by this horrid creature, who had given them a sleepless night by pretending he was drowning."
Silkies: "The seals were throwing off their skins and heaping them in a pile in front of the rock behind which Alice and the Rabbit were hiding. They appeared as beautiful men and women, dressed in old-fashioned costumes, and forming circles, moved gracefully round and round. The Rabbit peeped, stretched out his paw and took the skin that lay on the top - the one belonging to the biggest of the seals. He held it up and looked at it, giggled, then put it on."
Mull Fairy Prevention: "'Do you bar the doors and windows to keep them out?' she asked. Tammas shook his head. 'They dinna come in by the door or window,' he answered. Then he told them that the fairies come in with the last cake that is baked, unless somebody makes a hole in it with his finger; by water in which men's feet have been washed; or by the fire unless it is banked up."
Mull Elfin Dog: "They caught a glimpse, however, of something much more terrible and dreadful-looking than the fairies with one eye or one nostril. It was a huge Elfin Dog, and it sprang out at them from behind a boulder. It was green all over; its legs were a lighter, and its ears a darker, green than its body. Its tail was rolled up in a coil on its back. It never looked at Alice, it went straight for the rabbit. How he wished - how he wished now that he had put the oatmeal in his pocket and had not been such a pig as to eat it."
The Sidhe: "If they had delayed long enough to allow them to hear so much as one bar of the fairy music, they would never have heard any other sound in their lives again. When they woke up in the morning there would have been fairy music in their ears; when they did their lessons, fairy music would still have haunted them; when they went to sleep at night it would have accompanied their dreams." (The Sidhe also showed Alice their cauldron that could not be emptied, and Water Shoes that could walk on water)
Irish Water-Horses: "'I have heard tell of the Kelpies, but the Water-Horses of Loch Fee are different. THey have the legs and head of a horse and the fins and tail of a fish". "'Listen!' said Michael flapping the reins, 'which I tell ye the story of the owdachus young man who rode the Water-Horses of Loch Fee, and ye'll no longer be after wanting to do the same yourself.'
'There were a number of youths who lived near by, and they made up their minds that one night they would go out and take a ride on the backs of the horses. When the moon was full they crept down to the lake and waited until the fairy animals appeared. Soon many Water-Horses rose out of the loch and commenced to graze on their favourite piece of pasture. The gossoons ran up the mountain side, each doing his best to ketch one for himsel'. They had a grand chase, and at last two, the flowers of the bunch, succeeded in capturing a couple of the craythurs. Round and round the loch the young men galloped on the horses' backs; up and down the mountain side they rode. The horses plunged and reared; but still the riders kept their seats. Then down, down to the bottom of the loch the fishsteeds carried these beautiful young men.' 'Oh!' said Alice, 'did they come up again?' 'Niver, asthore,' said Michael. 'Niver again were they heard of any more.'"
Leprechaun: "He looked round and saw sitting under the hedge beneath a dock leaf a little old man with a jug by his side. He was wearing green breeches, buckled shoes, and a tail-coat of fine green lawn, with a cocked hat upon his head. He had twinkling eyes; but his finger nails were so long they looked like claws. He was busy mending a tiny shoe - so small that it could only belong to a fairy. When the Rabbit realised he was a fairy cobbler, he knew at once he must be the leprechaun. He knew something else about the Leprechaun! On the previous night Shamus had told them how this little fellow carried a purse with a shilling in it, and if you could only gain possession of this purse no matter how many times you spent the money there would always be some in it. It was quite easy to get hold of it, at least the Rabbit thought so - for all you had to do was to ask the fairy to give it to you, and so long as you kept your eyes fixed on him he was compelled to do as you wished."
Paudeen Rure's Fairy Army: "She shut her eyes; opened them again; then shut them. She blinked sleepily. Then she opened them-opened them wide, for pouring out of the big black cleft in the mountains round the lake were hundreds of little figures clad in scarlet. They did not tumble out, nor rush in disordered masses, nor even trip; they marched in lines like clockwork soldiers, company after company. In front of them marched their leader - Paudeen Rure, with his head in the air and his shoulders squarely set. He carried an unsheathed sword. He was bringing forth his fairy battalions to drill them on the banks of Loch Nafooey."
The Ellyll: "Then she saw that they had been lifted off their feet by many little goblins dressed in green, with mischievous faces. These were the Ellyll, who had been supping off poisonous mushrooms when Alice and the White Rabbit arrived. 'Put me down-put me down! expostulated the Rabbit kicking out his feet. But the goblins only laughed. Then one of them said: 'You can choose which wind you will be carried on.'" Luckily they choose the mid-wind!
"The fairy was dressed in corduroy breeches, fastened, like his swallowtail coat, with large brown buttons; long grey worsted stockings; stout shoes, and a three-cornered hat."
The Merrow: "He was a horrid-looking person with long green spiky hair. His teeth and his skin were green. He did not wear any clothes, so his arms - really fins - and his scaly legs were bare. He looked just as thought he had been dipped into a pot of green paint, for he was green all over expect his nose, which was red." He carried a cocked hat and Shamus explained "the cocked hat was a charmed cap, which enabled the Merrow to dive down to the bottom of the sea, and if anyone took it away he could never find his house again."
The Phynnoderee: "They were as merry as crickets. They never separated; if one ran to pick up a twig they all ran, swarming like bees. They were like bees; they moved in a cloud, and there were so many of them that they darkened the sky. They seemed to be pleased to be in the night air, for as they ran they kicked their feet about, which were no bigger than apple pips. Then they ceased their bustle, and clambering on to the berries sat there singing. They had sweet musical voices, and Alice and the Rabbit drew closer, spellbound".
Manannan, the Whirligig Magician: "Then the thing stopped in front of the pair, and they saw it was neither a wheel not a hoop, but a man with three legs, not growing close together but set wise apart, so that when he travelled he could swing from one to the other and move at a tremendous rate round the Island."
The Boobach: This was the Boobach - a house-sprite, always antagonistic to ministers, and the better and kinder they are, the more the Boobach teases them. As the Rabbit crawled behind the sofa, some one else crawled out from beneath it - an ugly little creature in brown clothes, with a hairy face and hands. The minister had settled himself at the table again, but the Rabbit was too overcome at the sight of the hairy hobgoblin to stir from his hiding-place. He watched the Boobach's every movement, and saw him steal across the room and climb up the back of the kind old gentleman's chair. Minister Rhys filled a sheet of foolscap paper, and threw it aside. The Boobach stretched out his hand, took hold of the loose sheet, ran with it to the easy-chair, and stuffed it under the cushion."
The Machynlleth Fairies: Alice and Rabbit fell asleep on dear little bedsteads, offered by the fairies, but awoke to find the beds gone. "There was no one there to tell him that the beds had never been taken away, for there never had been any. It is just a ruse of the blue petticoat fairies, who make mortals believe they are sleeping on dear little bedsteads under fleecy blankets when, in reality, they are lying on bulrushes with moss for their pillows."
The Pwca: "He is a dusky little man, called the Pwca, who leads unwary travellers to the edge of the precipice. He springs over it so easily and lightly that it encourages his victims to do the same, But he stands on the edge and laughs at them as they fall into the midst of it, and when they try to scramble up by the light of his candle, he blows it out and runs away, leaving them to wait for daybreak to climb up the crags and rocks as best they can."
The Coblynau: "Breaking through a hedge at the bottom of a field were ugly little dwarfs. Their faces and their clothes were copper coloured, and they carried tiny hammers, picks and lamps. They ran up the field, danced wildly, then flung themselves on the grass one here, one there, no two together. They are the Coblynau,' whispered Garwyn. 'They work in the mines.'"
The Green Islands: "It was closing time, and the four were leaving the market when Alice noticed a crowd of tiny people - the men dressed in scarlet tunics with triple caps on their heads, and the women in white and green, with floating veils - standing round a booth where grain was being sold. 'Oh, what tiny-tinies!' she exclaimed, catching hold of Garwyn's arm and pointing them out to him. 'Yes,' said Garwyn, 'I know who they are - the Fairies of Pembroke who live in the Enchanted Green Islands of the Ocean.'" The fairies leave and Alice wishes to see them again and suggests to Garwyn they look from the shore. "'No, we shouldn't' he said, 'because they don't cross in boats. They go by a subterranean passage. And again, we should not see the Islands from the shore. Mortals can only see the Enchanted Green islands of the Ocean by standing on the turf that grows in St David's Churchyard.'" They take some turf with them in the boat and sail across to the islands to see the fairies again.