A Fairy Field Guide, if you please.
January 16, 2011 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books about fairies, elves, the wee folk, etc.

I know there are TONS out there, so I'm a little overwhelmed with trying to sift through them all.

I'm specifically looking for books that aren't super commercial. I love Disney fairies to an extent, but mostly because the stories/artwork is fun and cute. Not because they have any real material on fairies/mythology of fairies.

What I really want are books about fairies, brownies, elves, etc etc etc, written by people who really think they've seen such things or who really believe in their existence. (And who haven't been proven to be frauds/insane)

Or some kind of non-disney/non-postcard art Encyclopedia of fairies book would be nice.

Basically, something that could be considered a little more -- and please don't laugh! -- "scholarly." Maybe something that could be considered almost nonfiction, if it weren't for the fact that the majority of people don't believe in such beings.

I've already heard of Mary Cicely Barker, but her work seems to be more about the drawings and what she romantically thinks fairies are about. I will check her books out, because they look so pretty, but in this case, they aren't what I'm looking for.

Well, thanks in advance!
posted by joyeuxamelie to Education (30 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell is certainly not twee, if anything it's rather dark. I loved it, but it's not to everyone's taste.
I'm also very fond of the world portrayed in the books of Sylvia Townsend Warner, too.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:31 AM on January 16, 2011

One of the books you're probably looking for is the Katharine Briggs Encyclopedia of Faeries, which is a good guide to fairy mythology. It's an older book (I've had my copy for at least 20 years) but I've found it to be a very solid resource for my needs, which are admittedly less scholarly than rpg-related.
posted by immlass at 9:32 AM on January 16, 2011

You might find Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book a great read. It's more in a diary form, following her life from the infamous photo to her adult life's fairy sightings. It contains a bit of artsy gore (how would a fairy look if you were able to *snap* it in between pages of a dairy?) but is kept humorous.
posted by samsara at 9:33 AM on January 16, 2011

I had a copy of this book about Gnomes as a child, and I thought it was very cool.

Then I donated it to my elementary school library. And then it got kicked out of my elementary school library because there were pictures of bare-breasted gnomes breast-feeding their baby gnomes. My first introduction to censorship, yay!
posted by jacquilynne at 9:33 AM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Gnomes book... it's really good!
posted by kimdog at 9:38 AM on January 16, 2011

Little, Big: or, The Fairies' Parliamen is fiction, but it's rather wonderful - it's extremely well-written, and it has exactly the gentleness and strangeness of tone that faery stories themselves have, in my mind at least.
posted by piato at 9:40 AM on January 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Meeting the Other Crowd is great! It's a collection of stories told in Ireland about what happens when people meet fairies. Mostly, it doesn't end well. Every story is thought to be true by the person who tells it.
posted by hammurderer at 9:45 AM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Try Andrew Lang's Fairy books with folk and fairy tales handed down from various sources.
posted by hazyjane at 9:47 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Received it for Christmas as a kid, is an incredibly comprehensive tome of worlds, peoples, and their cultures as found in fantasy and some sci-fi literature. It's written in a straightforward, scholarly style as if to suggest the topics are real.

Also strongly seconding Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
posted by hegemone at 9:58 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, by W. Y. Evans Wentz? Straight from Oxford University press via Project Gutenberg?
posted by Orb2069 at 9:58 AM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think 'Gnomes' is by Brian Froud? (cant check, on phone) His book 'Faeries' is rly good: beautiful art & lots of collected lore.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:12 AM on January 16, 2011

The Gnomes book actually spawned a number of imitators, one of which was Faeries (which is exactly what you're looking for) and another of which was Giants (which Bookfinder.com has listings for at much better prices than Amazon).
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:13 AM on January 16, 2011

Nthing Gnomes. I loved the book as a kid, and I love it now.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is also a great book, and in a similar vein I suggest The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were. Very readable (detailed but not dry), and beautiful, full-color artwork.
posted by Inkslinger at 10:17 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I honestly can't remember if there are actual fairies in it, but the first thing that came to mind was Opal Whiteley's story, which is really interesting and I think you'd like it even if there are no fairies. Her diary was published in the '90s: The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow.
posted by librarina at 10:17 AM on January 16, 2011

You could do worse than to dig through the works of WB Yeats. There's plenty in there about the Faerie Folk. The Stolen Child for example. Then you could read the book of the same name (inspired by the poem)

You'll probably also enjoy The Colmore Fatagravures
posted by merocet at 10:40 AM on January 16, 2011

Basically, something that could be considered a little more -- and please don't laugh! -- "scholarly." Maybe something that could be considered almost nonfiction, if it weren't for the fact that the majority of people don't believe in such beings.

The topic range is wider than "fairies" but for this purpose I'd recommend Monsters: An Investigator's Guide to Magical Beings by John Michael Greer. But it is written from the background of magic and takes itself very seriously, so if that sort of stuff doesn't appeal to you it might seem a little "woo."
posted by girih knot at 10:45 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please YoursELF: Sex with the Icelandic Invisibles by Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir.

Hands down the best elf book ever. Picked it up in iceland a few years ago.
posted by smokingmonkey at 10:52 AM on January 16, 2011

Jacques Vallée's Passport to Magonia is a serious exploration of how folklore tales of fairies, elves, gnomes and the like relate to modern day UFO encounters.
posted by bigbigdog at 10:52 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anything by Brian Froud definitely fits the bill. Seconding Faeries as exactly what you're looking for, an illustrated encyclopedia of faeries. Seconding also Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book, a diary of someone who catches fairies and squashes them between the pages of her journal! You'll also want to check out Good Faeries Bad Faeries for some amazing art.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 11:27 AM on January 16, 2011

If it's scholarly stuff you want, Katherine Briggs, whose Encyclopedia of Fairies was recommended above by Immlass, is exactly the person you want to read. I'd recommend pretty much all of her work.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:49 AM on January 16, 2011

Seconding Katherine Briggs Encyclopedia of Fairies, and add in her The Fairies in Tradition and Literature -- which blends scholarship and storytelling with just the sort of almost-nonfiction ambiguity you're looking for.

On preview-- pipped to the post! Yeah, Katherine Briggs is who you're after.
posted by Erasmouse at 12:18 PM on January 16, 2011

Although these are all fiction, and YA, they're also interesting in that they share a few basic tenets: at least two faerie courts, pixie dust, glamours, aversions to iron, superhuman strength, etc. It might be interesting to take a look at the recent young adult offerings in the faerie genre, if only to find out where these writers did their research.

Holly Black wrote a fantastic series, the first of which is Tithe, about trailer trash faeries in New Jersey. Very dark. Melissa Marr wrote a similar series, the first of which is Wicked Lovely; I could be misremembering, but I feel like her fae hang out in Brooklyn. There's the work of Maryrose Wood, who takes a much lighter, funnier approach to the whole problem of what faeries are and aren't, starting with How I Found the Perfect Dress, with funny little bits in the series about every mythical creature from leprechauns to unicorns. And then there's Carrie Jones's Need, which combines bad faeries and good were-creatures in Maine. In Wings, Aprilynne Pike posits that the fae are actually plant-people.

I think Melissa Marr did graduate studies in folklore, and Holly Black's books are certainly well-researched, so it might be worth taking a look at what non-fiction sources they used.
posted by brina at 12:23 PM on January 16, 2011

Patrick Harpur's Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld and John Keel's Disneyland of the Gods are both worth a look, I think.
posted by christopherious at 12:23 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

A website from a professor who is studying encounters
posted by TorontoSandy at 1:38 PM on January 16, 2011

Diane Purkiss' At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Nymphs, and Other Troublesome Things is on the more scholarly side and might fit the bill.
posted by devotion+doubt at 2:28 PM on January 16, 2011

Barbara Rieti's Strange Terrain is an excellent book about fairy stories/beliefs in Newfoundland.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:09 PM on January 16, 2011

One more from the scholarly side: The Good People: New Fairylore Essays.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:11 PM on January 16, 2011

Susannah Clarke who wrote Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (as IdeeFixe suggested above), also wrote a volume of short stories called The Ladies of Grace Adieu.
posted by violetk at 3:48 PM on January 16, 2011

May be a little outside what your'e looking for, but Robert Sabuda is the grand master of gorgeous pop up books (more scholarly than kid-oriented) and he's done one on fairies.

posted by mazienh at 5:45 PM on January 16, 2011

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