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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Popculture Fairies, Kids, Contradictions, and Conversations....

Or I could have titled this one 'teaching my kids about the Good Neighbors in a post modern world' but that wouldn't have been any shorter, would it?

So, as I've mentioned, probably ad nauseum at this point the main focus of my actual day to day, rubber-hits-the-road spirituality is the Otherworldly spirits and land spirits. I also, as I am sure I've not often mentioned but you may have caught onto, have three children. My kids are now ages 3, 8, and 12 which is an interesting spread to deal with. I have always held to the belief that we should raise our children with our beliefs and let them decide what they want to do from there, so from birth my kids have been raised pagan. And teaching them about the Gods has been fairly easy - they see what I do on holy days, they hear the stories, they see the altar, the offerings. I read them the mythology, much of which can be found in child-friendly versions. My husband is a very casual sort of Egyptian pagan but they see his version of spirituality too and it offers a nice counterpoint, I think to my own.

Teaching them about the Other Crowd is a whole other kettle of fish, almost literally.

You see, I realized really early with my oldest that I was swimming against the popculture tide, for the most part, on this one. Because the pagan Gods generally* are untouched by modern younger kids shows and movies, but while I'm over here railing against twee little fairies and the dangers of assuming too much safety with the Fey, Disney, Nickelodeon, Hollywood in general and a glut of children's fiction is teaching kids - mine included - the exact opposite of everything I'm saying to them.

And here is the real crux of the problem - I can't tell them that the happy nice fairies don't exist, nor that there aren't any winged little ones either. Because as much as I might emphasize the darker dangerous sort for the sake of caution I don't deny that Fairy is a dizzying array and variety of beings in nearly every imaginable form and temperament. There are nice little garden Fey, and winged sprites, and gentle fairies who are shy and unassuming; there are all the kind and harmless things that can be imagined and probably many beyond our imagining. And there are also things that eat us for dinner, and dye their hats in our blood, and drown kids for sport. And none of it is really that cut and dried at all because really its not black and white but infinite shades of grey that constantly shift and change and just when you think you've sorted out who's on which side of the divide of good and bad or safe and dangerous all the lines have moved and everything's topsy turvy. The cute little winged fairy is biting a chunk out of your hand and the giant monstrous Fey is helping you in exchange for nothing but a good word. Because that's the only constant in Fairy, that its never constant by our measure.

Fairy from the movie Labyrinth
Sarah: "Ow! It bit me!"
Hoggle: "What'd you expect fairies to do?"

But little children don't think well in nuances and degrees, they like concretes - good and bad, dark and light, either/or. Basically things I'm not good at. I can talk plenty about the dangers of Fairy and the need for caution to adults with decades of fairies-are-watered-down-angels-meant-to-serve-us ingrained in them but that's born of my soul-weariness from constant over exposure to the saccharine-sweet bubblegum approach that denies everything traditional fairylore ever was or still is. When it comes to my own children, I was baffled as to how to reach them without either scaring them so badly they iron plated themselves, or failing to get through to them at all and watching them merrily trip into danger face first.

Paracelsus once said, "Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy." I decided this was good advice in this situation as well, if I made it work for me. Popculture was the problem, but popculture could also be the solution. There are, after all, some decent movies out there with fairies in them, or fairy themes. The Secret of Kells. Song of the Sea. Labyrinth (especially for my older daughter). Spiderwick Chronicles. The Secret of Roan Innish. Into the West. Even Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit when they get older. None of these are prefect but if I watch them with my kids I can gently bring up the disconnects from the older folklore and redirect them in a better direction. I can make a fun movie into a subtle teaching experience. If I'm clever (and I certainly try) I can work in the actual methods of dealing with them safely. I can read them, and tell them, the old stories too of course, and teach them what I do and the folklore but they are less interested in that than in the captivation of a good movie. Because as much as it pains me, child of books that I am, while my kids like to read and like stories well enough their imaginations are captured by movies in a way that reaches the places I need to speak to right now. And unlike boring old mom talking a fun movie will get all three of them, diverse ages or no, sitting down together and paying attention. So I have to make popculture my weapon instead of letting it be used against me.

So this past weekend we tried two new animated movies, Epic and Strange Magic*. Very different movies but both were good in their own ways.

Epic is the story of a teenage girl who goes to live with her estranged father after her mother dies. He is obsessed with proving that in the woods by his house live an advanced civilization of tiny people - read: fairies. Meanwhile the fairies are divided into two opposing factions, the boggans who are bad Fey intent on spreading rot and decay, and the leafmen who are good Fey who fight the boggans and whose Queen is the only power that can reverse the damage the boggans do. The girl decides to run away and stumbles across the Fairy queen as she's being attacked; the girl ends up being shrunk down to fairy sized (about 2 inches) and entrusted with a magic pod that will choose the new queen. And adventure ensues.
Pros: sticks to the rigid ideas of good and bad with the Fey; likable characters; teaches kids to be aware of what's around them; time runs differently
Cons: balance is mentioned as necessary but is portrayed as endless war. The only true wisdom is held by the good side and the evil side is just mindlessly bad and destructive. also reinforces the 'fairies are tiny' idea.
Lessons I was able to teach my kids after watching: things aren't what they appear to be. Things that appear harmless can be dangerous. Things that appear unpleasant can be helpful. Time runs differently in Fairy.

Strange Magic; story of two fairy kingdoms, one of elves and winged fairies (all tiny) and one of goblin-like creatures (also tiny) led by a winged king who looks a lot like a cross between a cricket and a fairy. The Bog King hates love and has imprisoned the only fairy who can make a love potion. The fairy princess Marianne has her heart broken by an unfaithful fiance, who then tries to get he rback so he can be king. When her younger sister's best friend, an elf who is in love with the sister, gets tricked into sneaking into the dark kingdom to free the fairy to make the love potion (by the fiance who wants it to use on Marianne) adventure ensues.
Pros: great message about not judging by appearance; good isn't always good and bad isn't always bad; nice trickster fairy in the mix. Strong female lead.
Cons: singing. Lots of singing; Painfully campy at times. Another tiny fairies movie.
Lessons I was able to teach my kids; don't judge good or bad on looks, what seems fair can be treacherous, and what seems ugly can be trustworthy. Also don't judge beauty by our own standards, what we think is beautiful may be ugly to other beings, and what other beings find beautiful may seem ugly to us.

I'm still not a fan of popculture fairies, but I'm adapting. And my children and I are finding common ground to pass on the old ways in a new day and age....

*I did say generally, and I realize there are some exceptions.
*support your local library and check out the movie selection!


  1. Thank you for sharing. I can see the dilemma. Have they watched 'Spirited Away' by Ghibli or some of the other ones the studio made? The Ohm face in it is an interesting one to talk about, might however scare the little one a bit. ^^ Nausicaa when they are older is an interesting one about perceptions and nature as well as war etc. For the little ones 'Ponyo' is a fun one. Might have to check out 'Strange Magic'.

  2. The most difficult concept to teach kids about fairies, or so I have found, is the idea of them not being bad. Some, well most, can be nasty even the friendly Seelie ones. But by their own standards they aren't doing wrong - so Trows doing the Changeling thing isn't a bad thing, they think it is a fair exchange. But it is bad to us, from our human point of view.
    Realising that our human view of things is not necessarily the universal truth is not an easy concept for kids to grasp (nor even some adults).

    I found that prepping fairy protection was helpful. Looking for 4-leaf clovers, gathering iron, sprinkling salt are hands on, fun and helps to solidify the idea of the need for protection. Learning how to properly "gift" to fairies without offending them was also helpful.