His guest post today is about faeries — historically, in other literature and art, and in True Blood, too.
Many of us probably rolled our eyes when Bill Compton finally told Sookie the big secret about her part-fairy lineage, because when we think of fairies we think of Tinkerbell and her buds: pretty, tiny chicks with wings and short skirts, floating around in balls of light. But we’ll learn in the next season that we don’t really know anything about fairies. In fact, we’ve already seen a little bit of what they’re capable of.
I’m not talking about Claudette’s gauzy fairy-world in the Bon Temps cemetery, or even her blasts of light when Bill visited her there. The key to seeing how far Ball & Co. is willing to go subverting our expectations came in the finale, when Sookie was left alone with King Russell in Fangtasia.
He tries to make a deal with her, but something about his words convinces Sookie that he was planning to use her blood somehow to bring Talbot back to life. Whether it would have worked — even whether that was his real intention — became a moot point when she tossed the big jar of Talbot into Eric’s garbage disposal, hit the switch, and watched Russell scream. That crazy light in her eyes and the feral laughter — she was nearly screaming! — weren’t just a strange moment, or a sign that Sookie’d finally had enough of being fed on: It was the first sign that True Blood‘s faerie, the real deal, aren’t like anything most of us have ever seen.
Faerie lore comes to us from the Celts, whose beliefs survive in lots of myths, traditions, and stories (hence, “fairytales”), but as with most things that old, a lot of the rougher edges have gotten rubbed off over time: The real faerie were strange humanoid beings with a skewed logic, just next door to the real world, who needed to be appeased and avoided in case they decided to take our children, or ourselves, back to their world.
Some believe that these parts of the myth come from actual hidden people, Picts or nameless conquerees, who lived in the forest and snuck out for food and occasional fresh breeding stock. Some believe they came about in part to explain the sad occurrence of untreatable mental illnesses and developmental disabilities: “Changelings” might be the easiest explanation for a grieving mother whose child suddenly changed. “Fetches,” or fairy doubles, could explain a person acting out of character or sudden disappearances.
Lights in the darkness, danger spots, abductions, people returning from experiences with them unable to speak or even think the way they used to: Sounds a lot like aliens, and not just to Bill Compton. A recent episode of Supernatural drew the same connection, calling them “ultraterrestrials.”
I think I would prefer “infra,” but I do love the comparison because it points out something very important about the nature of the abductions and the beliefs around the lore: Aliens come to us from somewhere else, while faeries have been here all along. They’re part of us, in some way. This is right in line with the mandate of the show, where even the fangs of vampires have a biological mechanism: There’s no “them,” there’s just a whole lot more of “us” we never knew about.
Along the same lines, faerie in Sookie’s world are dangerous. In the same way that vampires, shifters, and weres are dangerous, which is to say they must be respected for their power. They represent forces that can’t be controlled, and often look insane from our limited viewpoint. And of course, since learning the superstitions/rules about each new supe culture is one of the best things about the show for a fantasy or horror fan, the rules for faeries are particularly interesting:
To avoid the faerie, you can put your shoes on the wrong feet, or flip your shirt inside out, or wrap a bit of bread in your baby’s clothes. Like ghosts and some death spirits, they can be confused by spilling salt or sugar, or forced to count the bristles in a broom. This is a central one: Faerie can never break agreements or lie… But they’re known for twisting their words and making odd promises so they won’t have to, which means you never get into a conversation with a faerie unless you’ve had your coffee. Likewise, their food and gifts are illusory, turning to leaves by morning in the latter case and perhaps damning you to remain in Faerie in the former.
Even if you’ve read the Sookie Stackhouse books, it still remains to be seen how the show will treat them, both thematically and in-story. It can be presumed that they will be both respectable and uncanny, like the other supernatural races, and that whatever we learn about them may turn out to be only partially true. But I do know one thing: That look on Sookie’s face scared the heck out of me, and I can’t wait to see it again!
If you’re interested in learning more about faerie lore, you’re in luck. There’s about a thousand years of writing for you to devour. There’s always A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which shows the faerie at their most powerful and confounding, or you could start by listening to Goethe’s very creepy, beautiful poem Der Erlk¶nig, or The Erl-King. If you like long poetry, you can find many of the Child Ballads and Border Ballads our faerie tradition comes from. A more modern (and personal) favorite is Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, which is exhilarating and sad and sexy and awful at the same time — just like the Faerie! Read them aloud, definitely, but do leave the lights on.
If you just want to read for fun, there are tons of urban fantasy books set in and around faerie worlds. Some of my favorites are War For The Oaks by Emma Bull, Will Shetterly‘s books, and a lot of the stuff from their Minneapolis-based group of writers. In the world of comics Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and John Ney Rieber’s Books of Magic series are, in particular, beautiful stories with frequent faerie themes, while Grant Morrison’s Invisibles introduces a new way to look at the alien/fairy connection (along with everything else — in fact all three of those series are life-changers, if you really want your mind blown and want to learn about comics).
Charles de Lint is an amazing Canadian writer who works with faerie themes; you might start with his story collection Dreams Underfoot. I probably read Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon’s Knight of Ghosts & Shadows ten times when I was growing up, and there have been loads of sequels since then. And of course, Jim Butcher’s bestselling Dresden Files can be found on the shelves right next to Sookie, and they’re chock full of fun and classic detail for supernatural mystery fans.
Between Faerie Sookie on TV and the latest crop of faerie YA (Wicked Lovely and Wondrous Strange, at least, I can personally recommend) it looks like real faeries — scary faeries! — are finally hitting the mainstream. You never want to say “the next vampires are X,” because you’ll usually be wrong, but I do know we’ll be seeing a lot more fairy stories before all’s said and done. Having grown up loving them — the strange societies and unbreakable promises, the etiquette of dealing with incomprehensible powers — I can say we’ve waited long enough. And considering one of the first characters being cast for the new season is Shakespeare’s own Queen Mab, I’d say the road is about to get very rough indeed…
Thank you, Jacob!