Fairies and Fairy Tales

The Special Collections Research Center is celebrating Halloween by exploring some of the fairy tales, folklore and fables in our Rare Books Collection.

As it turns out–the stacks are full of magic!

Fairy popping out of a book in Special Collections

Fairy popping out of a book in Special Collections: Fairies and Magical Creatures by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda, GR 549 .R45 2008

Fairies jump out from the pages of our rare book collection. In the pop-up volume shown here, Fairies and Magical Creatures, the authors Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda discuss the history and nature of fairies. According to the authors, the origins of fairy is in dispute. They write: “Whether fallen angels, the offspring of forgotten gods, or the very spirit of nature, fairies are said to share our world but are usually hidden from view.”

When researching fairies, it is important to remember that all fairies are not the same. Different geographic regions have different traditional stories of their fairy and nature spirits.

Cover art and Table of Contents from The Blue Flower by Henry Van Dyke.

Cover art and Table of Contents from The Blue Flower by Henry Van Dyke, PS 3117 .B6 1902


So, the terrible and beautiful aristocratic sidhe described by Irish poet W.B. Yeats are as different from the woodland nymphs of Ovid as they are different from William Shakespeare’s courtly Titania and Oberon. Despite their differences, these fairies share space in the stacks of the Special Collections Research Center.

Frontispiece from W.B. Yeats' The Celtic Twilight

A poem from W.B. Yeats’ The Celtic Twilight, PR 5904 .C4 1902

In the mythology of the British Isles, there are two different types of fairies: solitary fairies, who are mischievous loners, and trooping fairies, the aristocrats of the Fairy World who appear in amazing, long processions, such as in the fairy tale Tam Lin. Reinhart and Sabuda further specify that “solitary fairies are uncivilized loners who roam the woodlands, letting whim dictate whether they will help or hinder humankind. By contrast, their gregarious cousins, the trooping fairies, live according to fairy laws and etiquette.”
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The cast of characters from Purcell's Fairy Queen, based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

The cast of characters from Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen: An Opera, based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ML 50.2 .F145 P92 1692

Fairy Tales from other geographic regions can be found in Special Collections. This includes a German volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Kinder- und Hausmarchen or Children’s and Household Tales. This volume includes the classics, “The Frog King or Iron Heinrich,” “The Three Spinning Women,” and “Cinderella” or Aschenputtel. The fairies in Grimm’s Fairy Tales are known for their violence. Throughout the different editions, there have been changes made so that the stories are more suitable for children.

The Brothers Grimm, Kinder und Marchen

The Brothers Grimm, Kinder -und Hausmarchen, PT 2281 .G6 1920. Below: illustration from “Der Froschkonig oder der eisnerne Heinrich”









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To search the rare books collection for more fairy tales , search the Mason Catalog, click on “Set Limit” and limit by the location “Fenwick Special Collections.”

E-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have any questions. Appointments are not necessary to view collections.