To the 19th
century mind, the camera captured truth. You placed an object in front of it, clicked the button, and it created an indelible record of reality…or so it seemed. Yet in 1917, two young girls produced photographs which claimed to document fairies. If you are curious, click here to see the photos
and find out more about the Cottingley fairies.
The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure tells the well-known story from the girls’ point of view, first from the perspective of Frances on her arrival in England (Part I), then from the perspective of Elsie (Part II) and then the story intersects to weave the tale of both girls and how their own personal fairytales ended. Losure consults primary sources like previously undisclosed personal letters to build her narrative.
In an era where Photoshop makes edits invisible, the story of the Cottingley fairies holds great fascination. To our sophisticated 21stcentury eyes, the series of fairy photographs is obviously faked, yet the girls persuaded one of the great minds of the 19th century, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Conan Doyle, who wrote one of the most skeptical anti-heroes of all time, Sherlock Holmes, was infamous in his own lack of skepticism. He believed in mystics and communications with his dead son through séance. Conan Doyle published a public defense of the photographs in the noted The Strand magazine, much to embarrassment of the girls’ parents.
The Fairy Ring
has all kinds of engaging little details, like the fact that Frances was originally from Cape Town, South Africa. Or the fact that 15 year old Elsie was rather older than Frances, at nine. The language is delightful and reminds me strongly of Frances Hodgson Burnett – my favorite author who writes children’s books that are more than children’s books. It would be the perfect book to read aloud, as the prose has a charming freshness that lends itself to speaking.
The book has excellent high-quality scans of the photographs, which in itself is a pleasure to those who love Edwardian photography. There is a lot of argument about the final photograph in the Cottingley series. Fairy enthusiasts point out how different it is from the others, which clearly contain paper cut-outs. Here is the photo. The flanking fairies look like paper, but the central creature has a magnificent translucence – what do you think?
You should read this book if you love fairies and wish there was a touch more magic in the world.
Candlewick Press, 2012. Thanks to @quellelove for the fantastic recommendation and ARC .