The Science of Fairy Tales An Inquiry into Fairy Mythology

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Copyright: This work is in the public domain in the USA only.

The student of fairy lore faces the same dilemma as the first-person narrator in Hughes Mearns’s famous poem: “As I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.” Why study something that isn’t there? However, even if that man wasn’t there, Mearns’s narrator responded as though he were. Similarly, for all of recorded history many of our forebears have behaved as though they were surrounded by unseen sprites called variously fairies, elves, trolls, mermaids, and such. The study of these beings, like the scholarly examination of religion or psychology or politics, is laden with preconceived notions. The primary sources I refer to in the following pages typically cite individuals who assert first-hand experience with fairies, although most educated observers dismiss such claims as fantasy, self deception, or outright fraud. And theologians – at least in times past – have identified these creatures as satanic demons, to be avoided at any cost. The study of fairy lore is an exercise in evaluating contradictory opinions. “The science of fairy tales,” according to author Edwin Sidney Hartland, is – in part – a psychological and sociological investigation into the roots of faith. Who believes in fairies and why? But it is also an inquiry into emotion and esthetics. Why have these unseen beings played such an important role in the belief systems of countless people? And why does their magic continue both to haunt us and to delight us through the fiction that we now label “fairy tales”? The answers to these questions lie not only in legends inherited from the past, but also in our own psyches. The goal of this book is to present a sampling of these legends and to examine them – if this is possible – both sympathetically and objectively. Table of Contents Preface Chapter I. The Art of Story-Telling Chapter II. Savage Ideas Chapter III. Fairy Births and Human Midwives Chapter IV. Fairy Births and Human Midwives ( Continued ) Chapter V. Changelings Chapter VI. Robberies from Fairyland. Chapter VII. The Supernatural Lapse of Time in Fairyland Chapter VIII. The Supernatural Lapse of Time in Fairyland ( Continued ) Chapter IX. The Supernatural Lapse of Time in Fairyland ( Continued ) Chapter X. Swan-Maidens Chapter XI. Swan-Maidens ( Continued ) Chapter XII. Conclusion Appendix: Bibliography Footnotes