Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Faerie, or Faërie, is the land of the Fairies, or fairyland. It is therefore an Otherworld perhaps linked to ours, though access is seldom physical in the normal sense. The most common methods of access are by going Into the Woods, by River, by being transported by the winds (usually the North Wind) or by Dreams (though Faerie is seldom portrayed as a dreamland; rather, memory of being there is as of a dream).

Since fairies were once believed part of our own world, the concept of Faerie was a late development in mythography. Faerie was more closely associated with the Underworld where one passed after death, whether a Heaven or a Hell. The worlds were ruled by spirits equated with fairies, such as Gwynn ap Nudd in Celtic mythology, or Arawn the King of Annwn. Avalon, ruled by Morgan Le Fay, was another Faerie-realm linked to the Afterlife, as was Tir-Nan-Og. In Huon of Bordeaux (15th century; trans Lord Berners ?1534 UK), Oberon is depicted as the King of the Fairies whom Huon meets in a Forest, while in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1590-1596) fairyland is ruled by Queen Gloriana.

One of the main features of Faerie is its timelessness (see Time in Faerie). To cite just one example, in De Nugis Curialium (12th century; ed M R James 1915), Walter Map (?1137-1209) tells the story of "Herla's Ride", about a king who is invited to a wedding in fairyland; on his return several centuries have passed.

The very elusiveness of Faerie has been compared to that of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and thus fairyland may be perceived as over the rainbow, the equivalent of L Frank Baum's land of Oz. The borders of Faerie shift according to the power of the land's magic and its balance with the encroachment of humankind's science and civilization (see Thinning). The concept thus held an appeal for the Preraphaelites, who yearned for a Golden Age and utilized the idea of Faerie to depict a timeless paradise attainable only by halting humanity's material progress. This idea was used by William Morris in his fantasies from as early as "The Hollow Land" (1856), and particularly in his novels The Wood Beyond the World (1894) and The Well at the World's End (1896), where his fantasy worlds (almost akin to Faerie) are on unknown shores reached only by sea. George MacDonald explored fairyland in Phantastes (1858), this time making it more of a dreamland but also requiring, for access, an encounter in the woods (see Into the Woods).

In modern fantasy there have been several novels and stories exploring the relationship between our world and Faerie. These include The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924) by Lord Dunsany, Lud-in-the-Mist (1926) by Hope Mirrlees, Land of Unreason (1942) by L Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, The Broken Sword (1954) by Poul Anderson, The Kingdoms of Elfin (coll 1977) by Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Elfin Ship (1982) and sequels by James P Blaylock, War for the Oaks (1987) by Emma Bull, Faerie Tale (1988) by Raymond E Feist, Thomas the Rhymer (1990) by Ellen Kushner and Faery in Shadow (1993) by C J Cherryh. The concept of Faerie has grown more popular since the 1980s because of its association with New Age beliefs and the increase in interest in Celtic Fantasy. It provides a ready-made semi-believable world, in contradistinction to the fabricated Fantasylands generated by too many writers influenced by J R R Tolkien. [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.