The Fair Folk is a collection of six short stories about fairies written by various fantasy authors. Lest my readers think of Tinkerbell-esque sprites with gauzy wings and of diminutive size, please be assured that the fairies portrayed in these stories resemble our favorite Disney pixie not at all.
The best way to go about writing this post is to address each story individually. Each author has a vastly different writing style, and each was either brilliant or terrible. My feelings about the novel are divided. There were three stories which kept me absolutely in thrall, and three that should not have been published at all.
“Uous” by Tanith Lee
One of the stories that should have been left out of the volume. This piece is so full of “British-isms” that it is difficult to focus on the story itself. It is a Cinderella story about a girl named Lois. She has the wicked stepmother and sisters, and lives with them in a house in a fairy infested forest in modern-day Britain. Lois has a foul attitude and an irritating voice, and as a character was altogether disagreeable. There is no way to get behind a character if one cannot even like her for being unlikeable. On her way home from the village where she does the family’s grocery shopping, she meets a fairy who gives her an alternate version of the “three wishes” deal. The story works out well for Lois in the end, but one cannot even feel good about that due to Lois’s bad attitude and the disjointed, confusing nature of the entire poorly-written piece.
“Grace Notes” by Megan Lindholm
This is a story about a longshoreman named Jeffrey, who comes home from work one day to find small changes made in his minuscule apartment. As the days pass, the changes grow larger and larger. At first it is just a clean apartment. Then his bedroom is redecorated. Soon gourmet meals appear in his refrigerator for him to eat after work. Scented soaps and plush towels appear in his bathroom. Design magazines sit in a rack by his couch, and home remodeling shows are playing on his TV when he gets home every night. Needless to say, Jeffrey is quite confused about how all of this is happening. He enlists the help of his female neighbor Maisy who, conveniently, has a degree in folklore. Maisy informs him that he has a benevolent cleaning fairy, called a brownie, living in his apartment and helps him to get rid of her. The plot is cute but a little ridiculous. Jeffrey’s brownie is the closest the fairies in this book come to cute. But even she, when he angers her, becomes a vengeful pest, destroying not just his apartment, but his car. Maisy’s education is a little too convenient. The conclusion is sudden and unsatisfactory. While I didn’t loathe it as I did the first story, I still wish I had back the time and effort that it took to read this story.
“The Gypsies in the Wood” by Kim Newman
I’m going to make a wildly dramatic shift in tone while talking about this story. It was incredible. The editor of the volume made a wonderful decision when he included this story in his book. Charles Beauregard is an investigator for the Diogenes Club, a fictional, secret agency of the British government originally created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of which Sherlock Holmes’ brother is the founder. In this story, Charles is investigating the appearance of a man who calls himself Davey Harvill and claims that he, appearing to be in his mid-thirties, is in fact the nine-year-old boy of the same name who disappeared only a few days before. In an effort to conceal as much of the plot as I can, I won’t say any more. The tone of the story is what makes it so captivating. Where the previous two are intended to be comic and therefore come off as being cheesy, this one is dark, mysterious, and at times almost frightening. Newman awakens in his reader the fear of encounters with the supernatural, so that, even though these are only black words on white pages, the reader feels the same pounding of the heart and heightening of the sense that his characters must surely experience. A delightful read. I hope there are more stories/novels about these characters.
“The Kelpie” by Patricia A. McPhillip
This story taught me something new. I never knew what a kelpie was. This story was also very good. Set in a time that feels very Oscar Wilde-esque, the story is both a fantasy and a romance. The tension comes from the battle of two men for a lovely woman’s affections, and that same woman’s abduction by the fairy world. I enjoyed the story, though not as much as the previous one. I felt that the build up was very drawn out and the action at the end was rushed, the conclusion entirely too abrupt. Still, it was an enjoyable story.
“An Embarrassment of Elves” by Craig Shaw Gardner
I won’t waste time on this one. It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever read: completely directionless and full of irritating buffoonery. The editor of the volume made an extremely poor choice in choosing this one. It was completely at odds with the rest of the collection.
“Except the Queen” by Jane Yolen
The editor’s taste cannot be completely discredited. This was my favorite story in the book, and it was absolutely stunning. It is written entirely in letter format, as a correspondence between two sisters. These sisters are fairies who have been banished by their Queen from the realm of Faerie and cursed with mortality for playing a prank. They, who have been inseparable for all their long lives, are now forbidden to see each other. Slowly, as dark signs and events take place around them, eventually dragging them into the web, they realize that their banishment was for entirely different purposes, and that the prank they played was simply an excuse to eject them from Faerie. There is not a single thing I disliked about this story. The characters are sensitive and yet powerful. The language is elevated and rich, full of intricate and beautiful detail. Yolen has a vast knowledge of folklore, and it is evident in every line of every letter in this story. She tells her story with confidence and elegance. I fully recommend, even if you do not seek out the entire collection of stories, to find this where ever possible and read it.