Perhaps the best part of childhood is believing in magic and fairies, with the ability to enter the world of fantasy at a moment’s notice through the imagination. Fairy tales as recommended reading for children seem to go in and out of style, with adults at times questioning the suitability of the message they convey to impressionable young minds.
To that effect, C. S. Lewis wrote, “About once every hundred years some wiseacre gets up and tries to banish the fairy tale … It is accused of giving children a false impression of the world they live in. But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories … The boy reading the fairy tale desires and is happy in the very fact of desiring. For his mind has not been concentrated on himself, as it often is in the more realistic story … the dangerous fantasy is always superficially realistic.”
In contrast to the superficially realistic genre, the fairy tale “stirs and troubles him (to his lifelong enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension and depth.”
How to See Fairies can certainly be accused of giving the world a new dimension as readers are able to peek into fairy land through Charles van Sandwyk’s whimsical imagination. Indeed, he writes in the short preface, “When you come to realize Fairies exist, you just appreciate life so much better.”
This gorgeous little volume, published by The Folio Society, contains five fairy poems, all thoroughly illustrated by the author, giving detailed vignettes and portraits of the “wee folk” and the idyllic world they inhabit on every page. Even the text is part of the art, with hand-drawn borders and fanciful decorations. The first poem is The Fairy Market — an enchanting account of tiny elves, gnomes, fairies, and other little woodland creatures gathering at their market for fellowship and good cheer.
The titular poem, How to See Fairies, delivers on its promise and offers insights in rhyme as to when and where humans are most likely to spot these diminutive magical beings, encouraging both children and adults to look beyond the explicable and open their minds to the possibility of tiny worlds. Pocket Guide to the Little People establishes the equipment needed to identify them, the habits of the flower fairies and of the feather fairies, and describes the job of the lamplighter, who mixes starlight with the dew to paint the glow on the fireflies. Other delightful characterizations include the horn blower, the bee man, and the gnome king.
The last section, entitled The Fairies’ Christmas, makes this book even more appropriate for the holiday season and recounts in prose the author’s childhood experience of a festive fairy Christmas in his grandfather’s cabin. The endearing depiction of magical domestic bliss is enough to awaken Lewis’ sense of longing in about anyone.
A survey conducted by Cooley Distillery, an Irish whiskey, in 2011 found that one-third of the Irish still actually believe fairies exist — leprechauns to be more specific. Irish tradition holds that fairies are mortal, natural beings who possess supernatural powers within their tiny frames, and that while they can be generous and bring good luck, they can also be extremely vengeful if harmed or affronted.
However, a firm belief in fairies’ existence is thankfully not required for enjoying fairy tales at any age. In the words of Lewis, “You and I who still enjoy fairy tales have less reason to wish actual childhood back. We have kept its pleasures and added some grown-up ones as well.”