How do we know what fairies look like?

Feb 14, 2021

The tooth fairy has been busy recently in the homes of many 6 year olds - one, I know well! Made me think about fairies and how we know what they look like - through artwork, of course, in many classical stories.

Fairies in the garden. The tooth fairy. Tinker bell. Fairy godmother. Fairies can be found in children’s fantasy stories, known as ‘fairy’ tales (although there is not always a fairy in them): stories like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Thumbelina. Stories from centuries ago could often be dark with adult themes. Some fairies are good; others are evil. There are other ‘little people’ too like pixies, elves, sprites, imps, goblins, gnomes and leprechauns. The word ‘fairies’ sometimes encompasses all these magical creatures.

What are familiar characteristics of fairies?

Many of these fairies tend to be small, even tiny, and childlike. Ears might be pointed like the hats and shoes they wear. Pointed and curled shoes like a clown or jester are perhaps reminiscent of the larrikin that lurks within! Naturally they tend to wear clothes that reflect the era in which they were conceived. But often they are depicted in a uniform costume, like Santa’s elves: all red or all green outfits.

But wings are the highlight! Flying is possible often with delicate, almost transparent wings like butterflies but just as common is flying without wings using magical powers or seated on the back of a bird. At some stage in life, we probably all wish we could fly.

How do they interact with ‘big’ people?

Fairies for me are the goodies in the story, helping life to be better and more enjoyable. Is it just me, or are fairies more likely to be female wearing dresses; pixies and elves could be boys or girls; but goblins, gnomes and leprechauns tend to be male…? Gnomes and goblins are the baddies in stories, in my book. But my perceptions have evolved through the stories I’ve read and heard and have been cemented by my own outlook on life.

I’m an optimist and like to encourage children to be the same. I don’t like to frighten children with dark, monster stories. Having said that, in reality there are ‘monsters’ and bad people. But interactions with these should not be the focus of fairy stories without a strong, overwhelming presence of good and positive influences. Such stories can help children build strategies for dealing with experiences that are scary, hurtful or sad. Imagining fairies and their playful ways can put us in a happy place.

Why does the Tooth Fairy want teeth?

For young children, this happy, perhaps mischievous side of fairies is fun and appealing. Their magical powers create a sense of wonder and mystery. Over time, that wonder and mystery dissipates but even as an adult fairies can still be fun. The excitement and anticipation shared with a child when they first lose a tooth, should not be missed. Something that can be scary and painful (losing a tooth) becomes intriguing (why do they want my tooth?). But... I wonder what the Tooth Fairy will do in a cashless CoVid society? Creative thinking required...

Creativity and innovation are vital in today’s ever-changing world and encouraging imagination starts at a young age. Do you need a special box or container to put the tooth in by the side of your bed? Could you make something like a little pillow or pouch? Would it be good to write a note to the tooth fairy (a 6 year old may need help with this)? Drawing could be fun - we don’t know what the tooth fairy is going to do with the tooth but let’s draw some possibilities. Are teeth like white picket fence posts in their fairy land…?

How do the fairies use their magic for good?

In the story of Cinderella, who is mistreated by her stepmother and step-sisters, the fairy godmother uses her magic to help Cinderella get away and find happiness. Life is not about just waving that magic wand to get what we want but it is fun to pretend we could. By thinking what we would like or prefer, we then have ideas that might be worth pursuing. A magical, make-believe world is of our own design and reflects and builds our knowledge of how the world works or could be better.

My god-daughter calls me her fairy godmother and I love it! I do feel like I want to watch over her, from a distance, and help make life better if I can. My magic wand has limited powers but the concept of an extra source of energy and support I think is powerful.

Tinkerbell, in the story of Peter Pan and Wendy, uses her magic to help the children fly to another world of adventures. She is helpful and kind to Peter, in particular. This concept of a little fairy that could perhaps sit on your shoulder and whisper in your ear is handy when helping a child think about making good choices. Listening to the good fairy can help you make choices that will lead to positive outcomes, things that can help make you happy and those around you happy too. Just an idea I've tried - putting a character to the voices in your head...

Are there fairies at the bottom of the garden?

We see butterflies flitting from one flower to another. Could there be a fairy nearby? Mushrooms have sprouted up in the lawn. Is there a fairy hiding underneath? This magical world is not for everyone but I have friends who have purpose-built a fairy garden with handcrafted doors in logs of wood and small furniture tucked under plants - a favourite play area for their children and now the grandchildren. On a walk through the hills I pass similar constructions built into the side of the hill by the path. Little fairy homes of all descriptions created by adults and children alike. A special treat for passers by.

Are fairies friend or foe?

Throughout mythology and tales from long ago, fairies have been both good and evil. I like to think they are responsible for positive, magical moments in the lives of our children. As we grow older maybe these fairies become our guardian angels keeping us on the path of positivity and well-being. Who knows? It’s fun being fanciful every now and then! Brings out that child in us, and childhood memories.

So how would we like fairies to look?

Whether it be through play or artwork, fairies are fun. If you search for ‘fairy’ in Artventure, there are a couple of options to help with creating a drawing. What might fairyland look like? Do the fairies all look the same? What do their houses look like - maybe mushrooms, maybe logs? Perhaps your children can build a fairyland at the bottom of your garden?

Teacher and Artventure Blogger