The Fairies of Cornwall (4)

Let’s have a look at one of the old Cornish stories, and see what kind of things the human sized  fairies used to get up to. As soon as I had read a few of these stories, I was immediately struck by how they seemed to echo aspects of modern life. The people who disappear in the USA’s National Parks. The activities of those nasty aliens. And bear in mind that this is one of the first stories in Volume I, so I would think it was put there as a gentle introduction. Not that the fairies are at all gentle.

In this traditional droll-teller’s story, therefore, “Uter” is a commercial traveller who is led astray by the fairies, as he tries to go back to his hotel after visiting a big country festival in Penzance. Here is its modern equivalent:

“When Uter got into the field, a cloud of fog was rising from the moors, entirely surrounding him and so thick that he could scarcely see a yard before him. Yet, although he couldn’t see anything, he could hear distant singing plainer than ever. He steered his course for the eastern side of the field, as near as he could guess toward the place with an opening in the hedgerow where he intended to pass into the next field. He soon came to the fence, but he found no opening. He searched back and forth. He wandered round and round, without success. And then he tried to get over what appeared to be a low place in the hedge; but the more he climbed, the higher the hedge seem to rise above him.”

“He tried ever so many places, but could never quite reach the top of the fence, and every time he gave up, his ears rang with such mocking laughter as nothing but a Fairy ever made. He was very anxious to reach the hotel, and above all to get out of this field, as it had a bad reputation, and was shunned by most people after nightfall. The ugliest of sprites and fairies, with other stranger apparitions, such as unearthly lights, were often seen firstly hovering around the old Chapel which stood in this field, and then departing in all directions. These ruins were so overgrown with brambles and thorns that there was but little of the building to be seen.”

“Uter had turned round and round so often that he neither knew what course he was steering nor in which part of the field he stood, until he found himself among the thickets surrounding the ruins. Even here he heard the same teasing, tormenting laughter proceeding from inside the chapel. Then he took it into his head that someone in flesh and blood was following him about in the mist. He soon lost his temper and threatened to let whoever, or whatever, was dogging his footsteps, feel the weight of his boot as soon as he could lay hands on him.

He had no sooner hit the Fairy then than the cudgel was snatched from his hand, his heels tripped up, and he was laid flat on his back; then he was sent rolling down the hill faster and faster, until he went down like a stone bowled over a cliff, tossed over the hedge at the bottom of the field like a bundle of rags, then pushed through the brambles on the moor, or pitched over the bogs and stream on the Fairy’s horns. Then he was whirled away like dust before the wind. When he fell down, he was pitched up again, and not allowed a moment’s rest from rolling or running until he passed the high road and was driven on by the Fairy, smashing against a high rock at the foot of the hill, where he was found quite insensible the next day.”

Whoever or whatever was responsible for those events, it certainly doesn’t sound like it was Tinkerbell!


Filed under Cornwall, Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Literature, Personal, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

17 responses to “The Fairies of Cornwall (4)

  1. Oh, and I always thought they were such nice little fairies.

    • Only after JM Barrie and Peter Pan. The model before that would be the fairies of “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Big, and self centred in a vindictive kind of way.

    • Actually, Derrick, if I remember correctly, in these old stories, unlike Shakespeare, the fairies are never named. They are just anonymous wrongdoers, who pick on people because they can.

  2. Oh my God !!
    Take care. Regards.

  3. You may have fairies causing such havoc, but I seem to have elves here. At least that’s who I always blame when something goes wrong or goes missing!! 😁

    • Personally, I have never been able to understand how you can lose something, look for it in a certain place a number of times, not find it and then come back a week later, and there it is. Surely that must be elves!
      In the wartime RAF incidentally, it was always the gremlins’ fault, although I don’t know if the Eighth Air Force blamed the same people

  4. Definitely not Tinkerbell! These fairies are certainly going to be a lot nastier than we generally give them credit for. I fear this is only the tip of the iceberg!

  5. Jeff Tupholme

    That last paragraph actually sounds something like an attack of vertigo, fancifully interpreted

    • If you mean the paragraph which begins “He had no sooner hit the Fairy… “, then I don’t really see it. Am I wrong to think that vertigo is giddiness, like when you are scared of the height you are at, as I was, say, on the unfenced battlements of Conway Castle in the mid-sixties?

      • Jeff Tupholme

        That’s a common understanding of it but it’s a misunderstanding of scale, attributable partly I’ve heard to the Hitchcock film of the same name! Vertigo is really a disruption of the balance function in your ears, which means the world starts spinning, a bit like you’re inside a washing machine. There’s also a feeling of falling through space and as a consequence of these things together it’s not possible to walk or move in a coherent way. It can last for minutes or hours. Your experience at Conway would probably be maybe 5% of a full-on attack. You don’t realise how crucial your balance is until you lose it!

        To me, the conclusion of the story sounds like the poor chap has had a vertigo attack – possibly partly brought on by the stress of being lost in the haunted field – but his belief system leads him to think this is being inflicted upon him from outside. Therefore rather than waiting it out he tries to get away but because he can’t walk he’s all over the place, falling over and banging into things. Vertigo is also exhausting so eventually he just collapses against the rock – something solid he can depend on – until he is found the next morning, by which time the vertigo itself has probably subsided but he is of course still traumatised. Maybe someone else who has experienced it will read this and comment!

      • Yes, it would be very interesting if anybody with experience of vertigo can shed any light on this. Was Uter suffering from an attack of vertigo? Or, were the actions he experienced too violent for that ?

  6. And here I thought fairies were mischievous yes, but this? Oh my! Now you have me wondering who I played with when I was little? (smile)

    • Yes, the behaviour of the fairies is a little extreme, but that is their real character as far as these stories are concerned. They are just plain nasty.
      As we shall see, the only nice people in these tales are the young women who have been captured and imprisoned in Fairyland. They are always willing to take the risk of helping other people to escape.

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