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Fairy Foundations

Since the turn of the millenium, there has been something of a fairy craze in the book business. Ranging from whimsical to serious to over-serious, books about fairies have proven popular sellers. However, the basis for these books is almost all the same: Old stories collected long ago. Only the New Age interpretations of fairies according to alternative theologies offer a real development of something novel. So, the competition between fairy books has devolved into which books have the prettiest pictures.

The Fairies in Tradition and Literature transcends the competition of the recent fairy book craze because it is of a different time. Written in 1967, the book has been brought back to complement the new generation of derivative works, and it stands like a dignified grandmother among a brood of babes.

The beautiful thing about The Fairies in Tradition and Literature is that its author, Katherine Briggs, is uninterested in achieving great sales by making mystical promises to the reader. Her perspective is that of an honest folklorist, and her audience is people who are interested in the folklore of fairies. Hype doesn't come into her work, so, for those of us who are interested in the old traditions about fairies, The Fairies in Tradition and Literature offers a calm portal.

There are some limitations to Briggs' work. Writing for folklorists, Briggs often glides over information as if the reader ought to already know it. She also references, every now and then, an odd British system of analyzing folklore that uses labels like MotifF316 to refer to an idea common in folk tales. Somehow, a lettered and numbered reduction of mythological themes seems inappropriate to the subject of fairies, who bend numbered systems such as the passage of years.

However, it is with pleasure that I find many interesting stories in this book that are pulled from old, old sources. These stories inform newer books like the beautiful coffee table book entitled simply Fairies created by Brian Froud and Alan Lee. Getting the fuller story helps the reader broaden his or her vision of what the realm of fairy contains. An index of all known fairy characters and types at the back of the book is of particular worth.

For readers who want more than pretty pictures and who do not mind some unexplained references to obscure knowledge, The Fairies in Tradition and Literature is a wonderful introduction to the depth of fairy folklore that lies beneath the present-day infatuation with the little people.

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