"Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvelous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes, look behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad."
— Terry Pratchett
(WARNING: IF YOU REALLY LIKE DISNEY FAIRY TALES DON'T READ THIS ARTICLE IT WILL SCARE YOU)Music to Go with the First Half of this article
Modern society has lived with the Disneyfied vision of Fairies for so long — the Fairy Godmothers of "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty", Tinker Bell in Peter Pan — that it seems hard to imagine that some would consider Fairies evil. Music for the Second Half of the Article
And yet, some of them were. The Fairies of old weren't cute little bewinged Pixies who fluttered happily around humans. Elves didn't make children toys or live deep in forests with no interaction with mortals. At best, they would interact with humans with either no thought to the consequences of their actions (examples are the Little People who put Rip Van Winkle to sleep) or delight in the mess they're making of mortal lives who were often either outright malicious or self-centered to the point of sociopathy (examples are Oberon, Puck, and the rest in A Midsummer Night's Dream). At worst, they're like Oogie Boogie with magic; youn know otherworldly horrors who kidnap humans and eat them alive or sometimes even worse things than THAT (Examples are The Other Mother from Coraline).
The Fair Folk (Sometimes known as the Fay) almost always live in the land of Magic.
The original terms for these (at least, in Scottish lore) were the Seelie (Morally Ambiguous) and the Unseelie (Evil).
In Ireland, they were called sidhe ("shee") and would sour milk, kill animals, and swap people for changelings. Boys were dressed in girls' clothes until the age of 5, because otherwise the sidhe would steal them for their armies. Building anything near a fairy fort was very bad. Going alone into a marsh was an invitation to get entranced by Cold Flames into their halls. Even if you were allowed to leave their kingdom, you could find that centuries have passed, and crumble into dust. Their dances would catch any human passerby and make him dance to exhaustion. Did I forget to mention that the Fair Forlk do that when they are in a GOOD MOOD. YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT THEY DO WHEN THEY ARE IN A BAD MOOD.
A variety of superstitions developed to keep the fairies at bay, or to pacify them. Salt could keep a baby from being stolen. Iron, holy items. Depending on the version, they may also hate the sound of bells — whether it's church bells or any bell-ringing at all also depends on the version. Some people put out offerings of milk or food for them at night.
Ever wonder why Fairies are called "the Fair Folk" or "the Good Folk"? It's because calling them an unkind name is a good way to bring down their wrath upon your head. In addition, simply using the word "fairy" is considered insulting. (It's not clear why. The popular theory is it's like calling a human an ape.) On the subject of names, there's a 90% chance that a named fairy leader will be called Oberon, Titania or Mab. Other fairies are just as likely to have names drawn from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
In a manner of speaking, the old version of the Faerie has been replaced with Alien Abduction. In both cases, you have creatures who don't understand humanity, who randomly abduct humans, play with them, and return them with Time Loss and occasionally strange powers/afflictions. Periodically, there are tales of those who have dealt with them and benefited, but for the most part, mundanes are merely their playthings.
Here's Several Examples of these Beings:Music for the Third Half of the Article
• Two Medieval accounts mention a pair of green children who showed up in the English town of Woolpit in the 12th century. They claimed to be from "Saint Martin's Land", an underground world.
• A lot of classic Scottish fairy tales have these, but just as easily have helpful fairies. They're probably most frequently seen in stories involving Changelings, but are seen as being somewhat interchangeable with trolls.
• "Sleeping Beauty" is gifted by six fairy godmothers with beauty, grace, wit, and great skill in music, singing and dancing, then cursed for spite to prick her hand on a spindle on her sixteenth year and die by a seventh fairy. The curse is softened, but cannot be completely removed, by the final fairy.
• Ancient Celtic Mythology you have the Aes Sidhe and their subculture the Tuatha De Danaan. The original Fair Folk, these guys were brutal and unrelenting. You did not want to tick these guys off under any circumstance.
• The Curupira from Brazilian folklore looks like an amalgam between indigenous nature deities and European faeries. Regardless of his origins and his role as a fierce nature guardian, he is generally perceived as a wicked, demonic and sometimes downright sociopathic entity with beautiful red hair who can (and will) do anything to protect the animals and forests of his domains. He is particularly infamous for shape-shifting into attractive forms to lure abusive hunters and woodcutters deep into the forest. The footprints of his backward feet will ensure anyone who follows him will never find the way out from the woods and there he promptly starts a Wild Hunt, hunting the men down with a giant wild boar and ultimately destroying them.
• Púca/ Pooka of Irish mythology. In the original mythology Púca were sociopathic shape-sifters, whose favoured form was a huge, black demonic horse with glowing yellow eyes and whose other forms always had dark colourations/clothing and were suitably wrong, who only behaved themselves one night of the year (the first of November, when they are tired after running riot at Samhain/Halloween), and couldn’t enter any dwelling uninvited or stand the touch of iron, but could stand outside your home and destroy your crops if you angered them and refused to come out and face them. When not riding along the hills and woodlands terrifying honest travelers, they blighted any crops left un-harvested after a certain amount to time. Or they demanded a share of all crops, newly made beer, or newly gathered milk, and if they didn't get it they’d trample fields, sour beer, render cattle barren. In their horse form, they lured young men who were intoxicated on pilgrimage or profaning the Sabbath into trying to ride them out of machismo at which point the Púca horse vanishes and the young man is either never seen again or changed forever, and tried to lure solitary milkmaids or other naive, lonely maids to an undisclosed fate in fairyland.
• Ireland's local Grim Reapers, the banshee (more strictly bean sidhe) and dullahan, were actually faeries. At least the banshee was only interested in warning whatever clan she was associated with that one of their own would soon die. The dullahan? He actively chases you down. So, you have a Headless Horseman, probably riding a Headless Horse, carrying his necrotic-looking head under one arm and using the other to snap a whip, dousing any would-be spies with their own body fluids (which marks them as next to get dragged to the afterlife), and whose mere presence makes every gate and door unlock, unbar, and open on their own, seeking you out. Hope you have some gold handy (a gold pin is enough), because that's the only thing that will save you (they're terrified of the stuff).
• The Tylwyth Teg of Welsh-Celtic folklore spent most of their time cheerfully kidnapping human children, presumably by way of recreational activity. According to ancient folk wisdom, the best way of getting rid of a changeling child was to pop it in the oven.
• The Nuckelavee of the Orkney Islands was an Cosmic Abomination of the purest sort. This sea-fairy resembled either a centaur or a horse and rider fused together, looked as if it had been flayed alive, was enraged by the scent of drying kelp (among other things), and brought plagues. Its one consistent weakness was an aversion to fresh water.
• The Redcap/Powrie was a Dangerously Crazy Fairy who lived along the old Scots-English Border, he amused himself by randomly sliceing people with his sword, sometimes devouring them, and all just so he could dip his hat in their body fluids. On the other hand, powries needed to keep their caps blood-suffused, lest they die. Possibly justifies the actions, but not the glee they take in them...
• The caoineag is a Scottish version of the banshee. The problem? She also has a bit of the dullahan's philosophy—meaning she sometimes seeks out and kills people for FUN.
• Stories of the "Little People" pervade the legends of many North American tribes. The Cherokee in particular have many legends surrounding them, and group these fairy-like beings into three clans; the Rock People, the Laurel People, and the Dogwood People. The Laurel people were considered to be friendly and playful, and often played games with children. The Dogwood People were stern, serious, and preferred to be left at peace. The Rock People, who dwelled in caves far away from human settlements, were feared, as it was believed that disturbing them would provoke their wrath, and whomever did so would have some horrible calamity befall them. Cherokee in more isolated regions to this day still believe in the legends, and it is said that if a child has an Imaginary Friend, this is actually the Little People playing with them.
• The Seminole have stories of little people who live in hollow logs out in the woods. When lightning strikes a tree, it is thought to be the gods trying to fry the mischievous little things. They are best known for leading people astray in the woods, and you are never supposed to call to a companion who is out of sight. It is likely to be the little people responding to you in their voice to lead you astray.
• Baba Yaga displays many qualities of Fair Folk in Russian storytelling, She flies around using a giant mortar and pestle, kidnaps and presumably eats small children, and lives in a forest hut, which stands on chicken legs.
• Korean folklore has a class of supernatural beings called dok'aebis, who have unusually many similarities with the Fair Folk as shown in European folklore. They are ruled by an incomprehensible sense of ethics and a desire for general fun, as frustrating as that might be for poor human victims. Many surviving folk legends depict them as benevolent tricksters, but historical accounts still suggests that they were also seen as monstrous forces as heartless as natural disasters. The translation convention for dok'aebis used to be "ogres" due to their aesthetic association with Japanese oni, but because of their characteristic, terms such as "goblins" or "fae" have been taking over recently.
• In the fairy tale "Childe Rowland", Burd Ellen is kidnapped by elves when she inadvertently runs around a church "widershins", and two of her brothers attempting to rescue her are trapped and enchanted by the King of Elfland, until Childe Rowland saves them. Music for the Forth Half of the Article
Luckily, much like vampires, The Fair Folk traditionally have a few weaknesses that can be exploited, including:
• Metal - Sometimes it means striking them with iron weapons, or simply a frying pan or just exposure will do the job. In some settings where this would be too much of a Weaksauce Weakness, it's specified as Cold Iron. What this actually means varies, as does how effective it is. Sometimes steel is named instead of iron, especially in settings where steel is new technology.
• Cannot Tell a Lie - Sometimes. Note that they will exploit and twist this for all manner of deception, but a trickster hero can take advantage of this.
• Magically-Binding Contract - Any deal with the Fair Folk will be upheld from their end, though they tend to respect only the letter of any deal they make. God help you if you fail your end of a deal. (God help you even if you don't!)
• Pride - That bit up there about how they demand to be called the "fair" folk? They're all like that. To a one, they are proud creatures, concerned primarily with their own grand schemes.
• True Name - The idea of a 'True Name' has started resurfacing where discovering a fairy's name will either give you power over it or can kill it. It varies whether knowing the name is enough or whether you have to use it all the time. Note: this does not make the user immune to chronic word twisting.
• Must Be Invited - In older myths a faerie could not enter a house unless invited. As with above, loopholes apply.
• Music - Not the magical variety, but elves are often presented as being fascinated to the point of distraction with human music. This is because they cannot make their own music.Music for the Last half of the Article
Somewhere along the line and suddenly, all Fairies got a lot more cute. (And acquired wings, which were unknown in older folklore.) This began in Elizabethan times, where on one occasion a woman who claimed to commune with the Queen of Fairies was burned at the stake as a witch. It is not for nothing that William Shakespeare has Oberon explicitly disclaim that he doesn't mind church bells, this was done to show he was not a demon. It accelerated thereafter, resulting in the Victorian image of fairies, which is generally how they are popularly conceived today.
What do you think of my story?
I'm sorry for scaring you.
Do you think I should use a Fair Folk as a main villian in a story that I'm planning?
Sleep well children, pleasant dreams, I will see you in the morning.......