Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 16, 2011

Dealings with Faeries

DSC01158I read Maggie Stiefvater’s novels Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception, and Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie recently (slipping them in between Proust, Queneau, and Mahfouz…). Both novels feature teenage musicians of incredible skill – obvious targets for the fey, who value such talents highly. There’s harping and piping and magical carrying on, with four leaf clover raining from the sky. The mix of a contemporary American setting and the world of faerie was accomplished pretty well, and 10 years ago I would have probably loved these books. At present, I found them entertaining, and while the romances in both novels caused me to squirm a little instead of swoon, I was quite impressed with how Stiefvater dealt with her faeries.

She calls them ‘homicidal’ on her website. They are certainly beings of power, beautiful and strange, with ways of thinking and feeling that are very unlike humans. They’re clever and cruel, alien creatures, utterly different from us. Definitely not the delicate winged flower fairies that I built little houses for as a child! The way Stiefvater wrote about them rang true against my memories of Celtic Faerie lore, and reminded me strongly of a picture book about faeries that I had pursued as a kid.

I was able to find the very same book at my local library, and flipped through Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s vision of faerie with nearly the same wide-eyed delight as I did years ago. Now these are faeries!



I think it’s fascinating that the origin of faeries can be traced to Norse myths – I particularly like the idea that they began as maggots emerging from the corpse of the giant Ymir!

I didn’t realize how much Froud’s version of faerie had influenced the look of such things as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, movies he and his wife worked on – but it’s obvious now that I know the connection. And of course Alan Lee was influential on the look of the LOTR movies.

I like this bit from the intro of Faeries:
Faerie is a world of dark enchantments, of captivating beauty, of enormous ugliness, of callous superficiality, of humour, mischief, joy and inspiration, of terror, laughter, love and tragedy.

That’s what Stiefvater captured in her novels, and even if I didn’t connect with her human characters to the same extent, I definitely liked her contribution to the world of faerie. Now excuse me while I disappear back into that world, via Froud and Lee. Don’t worry, I won’t eat anything!


  1. So true that these faeries look like the goblins from Labyrinth… which I LOVE!

    • Yup, I have a hankering to watch it again. 🙂

  2. I’m in the mood for something fantasy like at the moment but I still got so many unread books. The mix of the contemporary and the magical world like it’s done in Urban Fantasy appeals to me a lot. I like Charles de Lint. I cannot remember right now how I pictured faeries but I think the way Stiefvater describes them. The last quote reminds me of what we call Elementargeister (elemental spirits?) in German (like those in Goethe’s Faust) or nature spirits. Not all cute and nice at all but rather unpredictable like the weather and also dangerous.

    • Have you read John Crowley’s ‘Little, Big’? It’s a brilliant bit of writing and a great mix of faerie and human worlds. One of my favorite books. I’ll have to check out Charles de Lint – haven’t heard of him. And Goethe is ever on my list…

  3. My family had that fairy book! I don’t know what happened to it. My last name “Fay” is another word for fairy in old English, by the way. And my initials are ELF!

    I was surprised at how good Shiver was so maybe I’ll give these a try too.

    • I would say I liked these slightly less than Shiver, and I liked Ballad more than I liked Lament. Next on my list when the YA fantasy mood strikes me is Linger, the sequel to Shiver.

      Hee, I love that your initials are ELF! 🙂

  4. I live near the only place in the world who shows Goethe’s Faust in its whole length, all three parts of it. (Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, the building is quite something, you can look it up). I never managed to see it though but read Faust several times… Or haven’t you read any Goethe at all? Then you should rather try Die Wahlverwandtschaften first (anothe re-read although I hardly ever re-read). I got Little, Big…
    Charles de Lint’s shor stories Dreams Underfoot are great. I think his Little Country is often mentioned together with Little, Big.

    • No, I haven’t read any Goethe yet. Perhaps it is time. And it looks like my library has quite a bit of de Lint’s work, so I’ll check him out. Thanks for the suggestions!

  5. […] been on a Maggie Stiefvater kick this year, adding Linger to the pile that includes Lament and Ballad (what’s with all these one word titles Maggie?). Linger is […]

  6. […] think the relationship could be resuscitated, but as the great funk of 2011 drew to a close, it was Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception by Maggie Stiefvater that gave me back my reading […]

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