As the day quietly melts into dusk, John Hyatt’s camera makes one last exasperated burst. A short time later, he peers at the fuzzy photographs in shocked silence. The tiny forms of winged fairies dot the film. Or do they?
From fairies to mermaids, aliens to vampires, hoaxes are something that permeate popular culture. So how can we possibly distinguish between reality and artifice? John Hyatt’s fairies are only one of many situations where we find ourselves asking, “Could it be?” Hyatt himself said he doubted what he had captured on film, but it’s hard not to question his intentions when he named his photographs “The Rossendale Fairies,” perhaps in reference to a well-known hoax, the Cottingley Fairies. But can we know for sure? Many have already been quick to point out that Hyatt set the scene or that the “fairies” were just insects, but the whimsy and wonder that you feel while looking at the photographs almost makes you feel guilty for questioning it. Regardless, I will leave you to draw your own conclusions, though, you will have to admit, the picture will indeed leave you smiling and contemplating whether or not you believe in fairies too.
Perhaps the most notable fairy “discovery” was made back in 1917 when two young girls by the names of Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths of Cottingley, England documented their fairy discovery in a series of five photographs. Catching the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he published the pictures in The Strand Magazine in 1920. Although the photos garnered mixed reviews, Doyle himself felt that the pictures were authentic documentation of the existence of fairies. It was only decades later that the girls finally admitted that the “fairies” in their pictures were indeed cardboard cut-outs, though Frances always maintained that the fifth and final photo of the series was genuine.
Fairies have been around for a while, so long, in fact that they were gracing the pages of the Iliad and Odyssey, making appearances amid works of Chaucer, and giving Shakespeare a run for his money in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. From early on, fairies were something of a cheeky bunch. Known for drumming up disaster, and cheering on our failure as a species, Tinkerbell, the Disney character, is a distant relation to the true troublemakers found in early literature. Fairies are mysterious, equally troublesome and complex creatures that span the oral tradition of storytelling from cultures across the globe. Delve deep enough and it is more likely than not that stories of fairies or creatures that share their characteristics can be found in any culture’s mythology. Early fairies were often quite tall, almost angelic beings, but were soulless and enjoyed manipulating and toying with humans. Celtic cultures however, depicted fairies as something that resembled more of a troll than something heavenly (known in Gaelic as faery). Whatever it’s physical description, the fairy has always been seen as being closely tied to nature, with an alluring propensity for mischief. It is no wonder why we find them in literature, and even real life.
There are many who believe that fairies do indeed exist, and a quick search on the internet will produce numerous sites such as Fairytastic and Real Fairies dedicated to proving their existence through sightings, accounts and photographs. These groups share the belief that the fairies’ existence is rooted in reality, though a commonly held belief throughout the community is that fairy sightings have decreased. The downward slide is mainly attributed to a move away from nature, the destruction of fairy habitat, and just plain wonder running out. There are many beliefs and religions that operate on the grounds that just because you can’t see it, does not mean it doesn’t exist, so why should fairies be any different? Bundle that up with a few pictures for documentation, and I’m not surprised why some do believe.
Fairies give us a sense of wonder. They are one with their surroundings, pure in their existence with nature, yet have a lust for life and taste for adventure that leave many of us contemplating if we are missing something in our own lives. The thought that fairies do exist can offer something amazing, something magical, and it can leave us wondering, “if Neverland did exist, would we want to come home?”