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Fairies have maintained a persistent presence in literature throughout human history and references can be dated back to 1000 BC where in the Iliad, Homer describes how “watery fairies dance in mazy rings. ” This is an indication that the notion of the fairy and it’s environment is heavily entrenched throughout the different cultures of the world and occupies a place in written history that skews the boarders of reality and make believe, where the point of fact and myth begin to blur.
This ambiguity represents a fascination within society to attempt to understand and explore the world by presenting the natural and supernatural side by side. A later historical example of this is the Medieval period that introduced texts such as Beowulf and the Arthurial legends that created a romanticism that is intertwined with the country’s history where actual fact becomes debated. This romanticism was a clear interest in the 19th Century where an interest in supernatural lands, particularly those of the fairy became apparent through western culture, but were particularly noted in English and Irish literature.
The reasoning behind this interest is partially attributed to the expansion of the British Empire that sparked a sense of superiority and patriotism that saw the country rewrite it’s own history to emphasise the power and romanticism behind the building of an Empire. This is apparent in much of the artwork throughout the Houses of Parliament. This sense of national identity also developed throughout Ireland during its occupation by the English where writers and in particular William Allingham used fairies and the fairy world to establish the origins of Ireland and give it it’s identity as a country.
Another reason behind this resurgence is the progression of the Industrial Revolution. It is here that a clear division between nature and the industrial world was defined and in essence created two separate worlds that created a nostalgia for a past steeped in folk tradition against the future that would inevitably see these mythical lands replaced by cities for the sake of progress. Further more to the link of progress, Victorian society developed a religious ambiguity as advances in science began to introduce a sense of understanding in the world where previously only faith was required.
This further developed the idea of a world being lost that existed in the past. But it is clear that the ability to question the world more freely left the Victorians more open in expressing ideas about the past more freely. A notable example of this is the evolution theorist Arthur Wallace and his interest in Spiritualism. What is clear is that the changes and developments in Victorian society during the late 19th Century created a heavy nostalgia for the past in search of a historical identity. These fascinations developed into a sense of escapism from the real world to one of fantasy built around innocence.
This developed further as a move away from adult responsibility and therefore became heavily associated with the youth and innocence of childhood. Indeed the belief of fairies can be viewed as a reaction against progressive late Victorian culture. This passive form of civil disobedience took a clear form as an Edwardian audience declared in 1904 that yes, they did believe in fairies. Both William Allingham and J M Barrie created fairy lands that fulfilled the desires of society to escape and bring make believe into actuality and defy the conventions that have been placed on the world from science.
The Never Land defied worldly conventions. It is a physical place (an island) yet without a tangible location in the world. The journey to and from this place is not documented as it is a place that can’t be defined on a map and instead has a loose navigational instruction of “Second to the right, and straight on till morning” to find it. The Never Land can also not be reached by conventional travel, one must “think happy thoughts, and they lift you into the air”(1. 1 530) to enable the traveller to fly.
Yet to be able to fly, one must also be “young and innocent” (1. 1 201) suggesting that only a child can make this journey and therefore the Never Land is a child world. The child has therefore been established as having a close relationship with the Never Land, as to fly allows the children to interact with and traverse the elements of water, air and earth on the island suggesting that there is a link between the child and the island’s composition. This is typically done vertically as the horizontal is an expectation left in the adult word.
It becomes a suggestion that when free from the restraints of adult expectation and control, children are capable of being wondrously practical in what would appear to be a non-practical way. An example of this is the exit from Marooners Rock as Peter leaves by birds nest and Wendy by Kite. This introduces a sense of an adventure attached to the island, but one that exists in make believe as much as it exists in reality. The idea is that a story remains just as significant whether it has occurred or not.
The purpose remains to entertain where the event becomes real to the listener and therefore an adventure. By this the fairies become real should you believe in them or an imaginary meal will be just as fulfilling even though the table is empty. It is a place that adults are unable to go. The adult exclusion is further portrayed through Peter who exemplifies the symbiotic relationship between child and island. In this play, Peter battles those things that threaten youth and innocence and therefore threaten the Never Land.
His nemesis, Hook is a counterpoint to Peter and represents an infraction of an adult in a child world and therefore is a threat to the Never Land. Yet despite their differences both remain remarkably similar to one another, and it becomes apparent that Hook is the man Peter would turn into should he ever grow up. This is part of Peter’s battle to protect the island and protect his youth. Just as Hook is pursued by his own mortality through the crocodile and the ticking clock that will one day wind down, Peter is pursued by Hook representative of his own future and must battle to prevent this.
This suggestion is made clear in the stage directions that dictate after Peter’s victory that the curtain “must not rise again lest we see him on the poop in Hook’s hat and cigars, and with a small iron claw” (P146) Peter’s strong connection his desire Shown in Peter’s relationship with the island, as because just as an adult cannot travel to the Never Land, they are also unable to see Peter “if you are to old” and only think that he is a “draught at the corner” (5. 115) Allingham’s world is different, his fairyland appears to exist alongside the world of men, as part of the countryside where humans and fairies each must coexist side by side. The description of the environment is heavily reflective of the wild countryside around County Donegal where Allingham was born and describes the “airy mountain” and “rushy glen”. As with Barrie’s, this fairyland appears to be set in a nostalgic appreciation of nature, that is perhaps under threat of change due to progress.
This is an attempt by Allingham to reconnect to an Irish past through the reintroduction of a native mythology. Its aim is to reestablish an independent Irish identity that is a counterpoint and separate to English industrialism and materialism that the reader can be inspired by and identify with. This representation then politicises the poem and embodies the fears, anxieties and doubts written into the text held by Allingham as well as his fellow countrymen. More than simply a sense of pride for his country Allingham there is also a doubt and a hesitation of celebrating an Irish culture under English rule.
This takes the form of the description of the fairies themselves as they move “Trooping all together;” (6) dressed in “Green jackect [and], red cap,”. Here the fairies have been militarized as they march through their countryside. The green jacket is symbolic as the colour of Ireland and is likely a military uniform. The red cap is more significant; in one way it presents as like the Germanic miners cap typically worn by Gnomes, perhaps reaffirming the fairies association as a mystical creature, but more importantly the red cap is symbolic of the Redcap of Liberty (or Phrygian cap or bonnet rouge) seen in the French Revolution.
In this context the cap represents freedom and the pursuit of liberty, which is a theme that remains in the heart of the text for Allingham’s beloved Ireland. Despite the connotation of freedom Allingham presents the red cap as a dual meaning. When viewed in the context of the poem there is a tension introduced as he describes “Wee folk, good folk” (5), the previous line expresses the “fear of little men” (4). Here there is a tension between fear and good as a suggestion of bloodshed through independence or to those that oppose it.
This is displayed though the mythical connotations of the cap as in folklore the redcaps are violent creatures that murder travelers who stray near their homes. They then die their hats with their victim’s blood. What Allingham presents here is a warning to the reader to both fear and respect the Irish heritage. Tinkerbell is the only visual representation of the fairies in Peter Pan, although fairies as a race are mentioned often. It is in this text that Barrie presents a solitary figure that has little contact with her own kind.
From this it becomes clear that Allingham and Barrie are describing two different types of fairy. It is Yeats that suggests in The Celtic Twilight, Faerie and Folklore (1902) that there are two types of fairy; the solitary are harmless and mischievous while the trooping are murderous and violent. It is clear that the two authors are describing two different worlds. Despite some differing themes, there are still some similarities between Allingham’s and Barrie’s fairylands. Both appear to explore the ideology around growing up and the loss of childhood, and children in general.
There is a particular suggestion in The Fairies of a young woman leaving the family and entering into marriage as “ They stole little Bridget” (29). This appears to parallel the role of mother that is requested of Wendy when she is whisked of to the Neverland. Yet under the surface of this is a sexual connotation relating to the composition of the family. Tinkerbell also presents as consistently jealous of Wendy’s position in a role she is unable to fulfill. The theft of a child in Irish folklore is usually undertaken in exchange of a Changeling.
The gain of a child for a fairy is to experience the love of a human child and the full spectrum of human emotion. These are emotions that the fairies in both texts are unable to display. What is clear in both texts is that the fairyland exists in duality to the world of men. Happiness is a reoccurring theme and one that is pursued by both fairies and men alike. It is evident that it cannot be achieved in one world without an influence from the other, and therefore the existence of each is reliant upon the other.
Therefore suggesting that there needs to be a balance achieved between industry and nature, family and folklore to allow humans to flourish in both of these worlds. Bibliography Barrie, J. M. (2008 ) Peter Pan and Other Plays. Oxford, Oxford University Press. Greenhalgh, S. (2009) ‘Drama’ in Maybin, J. and Watson, N. J. (eds) Children’s Literature: Approaches and Territories. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 267-280. McGough, R. (ed) (2002 ) 100 Best Poems for Children. London, Puffin. Peter Pan, film, directed by P. J. Hogan, USA, Universal Pictures 2003. Rose. J. 2009) ‘Peter Pan and the Spectacle of the Child’ in Montgomery, H. and Watson, N. J. (eds) Children’s Literature: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 145-152. White, D. R. and Tarr, C. A. (2009) ‘Peter Pan and the Pantomime Tradition’ in Montgomery, H. and Watson, N. J. (eds) Children’s Literature: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 164-172. Yeats, William Butler, The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore (2004), Dover Publications “In Fairyland or Thereabout”: The Fairy as Nationalist Symbol in Irish Literature By and After William Allingham, Cassandra Schell
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