I keep thinking about fairies and medieval culture and what they would have represented. Fairies weren’t granted their benevolent, altruistic personas until very recently, like twentieth century, Disney fairy godmother recently. Fairies as they were depicted in European folklore always had an ulterior motive. We get the tale of the Erlkonig in Germany were the fairy King comes and steals the souls of young children (mostly boys, if you know what I mean). They were witty and conniving. They were tricksters, only interested in situations and people that brought something to the table, people that they wanted or had something they wanted. They weren’t Cinderella’s godmother or the maternal fairies in Sleeping Beauty. Even in the Grimm fairy tales, where both of these stories were first transferred into writ from the oral tradition, fairies followed this paradigm. There wasn’t even a fairy godmother in the Grimm version of Cinderella (Ashenputtel).
I think it’s interesting for us to read romances like Sir Orfeo where fairies play an integral part in the plot development, because it’s almost impossible for us not to associate fairies with the Disney portrayal of them. If you asked a random person on the street, or even did a random poll and asked a bunch of people on the street, what characteristics they would associate with fairies, I would be extremely surprised if more than 10 out of 50 said anything about them being sneaky or crafty and none of them would say they could be evil or malevolent beings. I guess what I’m getting at, is our knowledge of fairies cannot inform our reading of Sir Orfeo or really any text that was written before the twentieth century. I can imagine that the medieval concept of fairies was centered on the fact that these magical beings were not of our world or of God’s world; therefore they were of the devil’s world. Anything not of God was dangerous, and fairies, beings not of this world, were even more dangerous. I guess my point is that people in Medieval England would not have found it strange that no one wanted to go to this fairy world or be a part of it. They would not have had to get passed any notion of benevolence in fairies to grasp the concept of an evil fairy, because all fairies were evil, at least they weren’t good and could definitely not be trusted.
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