I was thinking yesterday about why it is that fairy tales repel me.
No, not things like Snow White or Beauty and the Beast. Those stories don’t have fairies in them. I’m not even opposed to those stories that do have fairies in them, like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. But for a long time, I’ve found myself turned completely off by stories centered on fairies. Fae. The spirits that show up in rings of mushrooms and live in another dimension where it’s dangerous for mortals to go. But I’ve never figured out why I dislike them so much. Well, aside from the fact that when people write about fairies, one inevitably winds up talking about the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, and I just can’t take seriously any story in which the good fairies all remind me of mattress commercials.
And then yesterday I finally figured it out. Basically, fairies, when they’re portrayed authentically (as far as I can tell) are spirits or beings that pretty much just exist to fuck with people. And that’s it. They aren’t ever really portrayed as having any needs, of themselves. They are immortal. The Fairy Kingdom (or whatever we’re calling it this week) provides them with endless food and drink. Their major problem seems to be that they get bored, and when they get bored, they decide to go fuck with each other, or to fuck with people.
Now, the good fairies amuse themselves by occasionally doing helpful things for people, but honestly a lot of their “help” comes with a price, such as Rumplestiltskin might provide. Hey, you didn’t really need that kid, did you? Or they’ll put conditions on their help such that you half kill yourself jumping through hoops to “earn” it. The bad fairies, on the other hand, amuse themselves by straight-up torturing your ass to death.
In other words, fairies are not so much fairies, but trolls. Bored little soulless beings who delight in making misery for people and each other. And the entire human world is their Internet. They dive into it looking for troubled people to torment for shits and giggles. If you engage them, you always get the worst of the bargain. The really bad ones will actively hunt you down and try to drive you to ruin or suicide. And if you dive into their realm, they’ll suck your life away. It’s almost impossible to hurt them. And why do I want to read about miserable creatures like that?
9 thoughts on “Fantasy Rant: Why I Hate Fairies”
Fae are ok as supporting cast, like in the Dresden Files or in the Iron Druid books. They are there as an aide or obstacle to the protagonist, their agenda might even drive the plot. But their motivation remains secondary, they do not take center stage, and they are usually not PoV characters. After all, their way of thinking should be alien and inscrutable to us. Not good PoV material.
It gets bad when the Fae do become the protagonist, and their courtly intrigues and whatnot are no longer aides or obstacles to the hero achieving their goals, but the goals themselves.
It gets worse when the whole ‘otherworldness’ or ‘different because Fae don’ t think like we do’ becomes a lame excuse to handwave bad writing or inconsistent characterization. Or to excuse behavior that makes no sense. You cannot simply say ‘my main character is a Fae, she can do what she wants’ to completely ignore continuity or established behavior patterns. That is just lazy and inconsistent, and it destroys any connection you may have built to the character as a reader. Even worse, it may annoy the reader to the point of abandoning the story, or at least any emotional investment in the character’s fate.
On a side note: badly played Fae characters can be the bane of any RPG group. Especially if the player thinks they need to provide comic relief, or confuses whimsical unpredictability with utter stupidity.
Anecdote time: one of the very, very few times I ever actually attacked another player’s character, and the only time I actually killed one, involved such a player. I had played in the group for a few years, but had moved away, so they got some New players. I came back for a weekend and played as a guest, so I did not really know what to expect. We were supposed to infiltrate a town, and did not have the necessary permits, so we tried to sneak in. Cue the faery character, who thought it would be a hilarous idea to turn invisible, summon an elephant, and let it rampage through the city, while she sat on its head. Upon my OOC question why she did this, her response was ‘I am a faerie, I am supposed to do weird things.’ and trying to use an author I do not like as an authority (pardon any pun) on Fae behavior.
I admit to initiating the conflict by casting a faerie fire spell on her when we met up on our ship. I maintain that her response of casting a Meteor Swarm on me (for non-D&D players: massively destructive area effect spell) on me, heedless of collateral damage on our wooden ship was excessive. So I punted her off the ship. Which happened to be a Spelljammer. In Wildspace. Eventually her character will become a meteor itself, for now it is an asteroid orbiting the planet we had visited.
And the player refuses to ever play with me again..
Sounds like that last result was what we might call a “bonus feature.”
But yeah. That. “The character is a faerie, and that means that it doesn’t have to make sense!” Faeries done this way are the bastard children of Mary Sues and internet trolls.
“Basically, fairies, when they’re portrayed authentically (as far as I can tell) are spirits or beings that pretty much just exist to fuck with people. And that’s it.”
That’s the point. They’re what we all secretly want to be.
And if the fairies were portrayed as otherwise devastatingly intelligent or competent, then I’d find that compelling. I could see a sort of fae version of say, House. That would be clever and funny. But that’s the difference. If you want to be House, you’re basically saying, “I want to be so smart and good at what I do that my fuckery is justified.” But fairies aren’t. They just have intrinsic powers that let them get away with being stupid and indigent. And if we all secretly want to be internet trolls…? Dude, how sad is that? That’s not what I want to be.
It can exist in both flavors, but the “stupid and indigent” version is the one I was getting at. People want maximum power with minimum responsibility, and the fae are a basic representation of that wish.
Thank for this. Now, whenever I read a story with Fairies, I will be imagining sad, lonely guys hiding away in their parents’ basements and won’t be able to take them seriously at all.
Just one of the many services I provide. You’re welcome!
I wrote one that you might like. It takes place in pre-Christian Britain, and involves a group of Roman soldiers finding a gateway to Svartalfheim, the world of the dark elves. The Fae in my store are the last decadent members of a dying civilization that once had outposts throughout the human world but have since retreated to a last few hills.
Sounds a lot better thought out than most of them, that’s for sure.