The Fairy Mythology, published by William Harrison Ainsworth in 1828, explores fairy tales from the British Isles, Persia, Arabia, Scandinavia and Northern Islands, amongst other places. The origins of these tales of popular belief are described as poetic fiction, generated to explain natural phenomena by ascribing them to the works of various heroes, saints, gods or other mythical beings.
All over the world our imagination has gone wild, it seems, and how wonderful that is!
The Greeks explained the Milky Way as originating from “the teeming breast of the queen of heaven”. The delicate marks in flower petals appear when a hero meets his untimely death and the rose gets its colour from the blood of Venus, as she runs barefoot through the forests. Echo was a nymph who pined for love and fondly repeats the accents she hears, but in Norway and Sweden, it is Dwarfs mocking the speaker’s voice. While soft green circlets of grass are the light steps of dancing elves.
In every country a belief in these different beings, with special powers or knowledge, existed, whether deep in caverns beneath the earth, under the depths of the seas, in Valhalla, at Olympus, or at Meru, the golden mountain that stands in the centre of the universe and is the axis of the world, and the abode of the gods, according to Hindu mythology. This particular book, however, confines itself to those beings who inhabit the earth with us; namely Fairies, Fays, Elves, Dwarfs, Hobgoblins, and various water spirits.
The origins of fairies in Persian belief, goes back before man, when the world was inhabited by the Deevs and Peris(fairies), formed of the element of fire. There is a rich mythology here, woven into a magical story of war, power, revolt, rebellion and heroism.
Early European tales may well have been influenced by the East, but also came from the original mythology of the Celtic tribes. The romantic tales of the Middle Ages, began with fairies who were human mortals endowed with superhuman powers, and only gradually assumed the character of a distinct species.
Shakespeare’s Oberon, and Spenser’s Faerie Queene feature in Volume one, as well as the Alfar(Alfs or Elves) and the Duergar (Dwarfs) from the early Scandinavian and Iclandic mythologies.The stories of Loki and the Dwarf, and The Dwarf-sword Tirfing are here, as well as many other Dwarf and Elf stories and poems. The varying mythologies of Iceland, Orkneys, Feroes, Shetland and the Isle of Rügen are told in beautiful detail too, together with some lively little black and white fairy illustrations throughout.
Volume two covers Wild-Women, Kobolds(Hobgoblins), Nixes(river and lake water spirits) and Dwarfs from Germany, Celtic, and other British fairy mythologies, as well as from Southern European, Finnish, Slavic, African, and Jewish stories, with a mix of dark and light, good and malevolent characters.
But I will leave you with the magical image from Romeo and Juliet’s Mercutio, in describing Queen Mab, “the fairies’ midwife” as this is the fairy most similar to my own childhood imagination;
"Her waggon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs;
The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers;
The traces, of the smallest spider’s web;
The collar, of the moonshine’s watery beams:
Her whip, of cricket’s bone; the lash, of film:
Her waggoner, a small gray-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid:
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut,
Made by the joiner squirrel, or old grub,
Time out of mind the fairies’ coachmakers.”
So if you want to be entranced, entertained, and scared just a little, this two volume set, The Fairy Mythology is available to buy from our Darwin Rare Books room for £97:50.