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Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Fairy Folklore in 'A Boy Called Christmas'

 This is a 2021 Netflix original movie but I chose it for the second piece in my series on fairy folklore in movies/television because of the wider theme. It is a children's movie and a Santa origin movie (surprisingly non-Christian) but for all that it does have a good amount of older folklore and hints of fairy beliefs that are reasonably accurate. 

This blog will contain minor spoilers, so be warned if you haven't watched the movie yet. 

The gist of the plot of the of 'A Boy Called Christmas' is that Nikolas lives with his father in a kingdom that has lost all hope. Nicholas's mother died and his father is sent on a quest (along with other men) by the king to restore hope to the kingdom by proving magic is real and finding the fabled Elfheim, home (as the name implies) of the elves. Nikolas is left with his horrible aunt who badly mistreats him and eventually decides to leave to find his father after finding a hidden map to Elfheim left by his mother, who used to tell stories of a girl who spent the winter with the elves there (spoiler: she was that girl). Over the course of his adventures Nikolas proves to be a truly kind and giving boy and eventually finds the elves, the magic, and the spirit of Christmas, which in this movie is a sort of nebulous winter festival of joy the elves celebrate*.

So, on to the fairy folklore:

  1. The elves are a hidden people, which is inline with older folklore, and at one point Nicholas is in the middle of their town and doesn't know it because he can't see any of it. At least not until he is shown how to. This is all actually really accurate to many beliefs about the Good Folk.
  2. The elves are around 4 to 5 feet tall, live in a society much like a human one, and are both helpful and dangerous to humans. Again this is all fairly accurate to older folklore and honestly very refreshing to see especially in a children's movie.
  3. Besides elves we also see a Troll and a pixie. The troll is large and dangerous, but not especially smart, and the pixie is human-sized, with wings, and a rather malicious sense of humour. The troll - given the wide array of troll folklore - is more or less what one might expect a troll to be like. The pixie, while I would quibble with the wings and ears, is at least in size and personality close to what one would expect. I did find the inclusion of a Welsh/Cornish pixie in what is otherwise framed as a northern European-esque story a bit odd but given how the whole of it was handled I'm willing to give it a pass. 
  4. The pixie can only tell the truth. Now this is a debated point in fairylore and likely doesn't apply to pixies, as there isn't a tradition in the areas pixies come from of the Good Folk only speaking the truth, but it is a concept found elsewhere. So this one is a bit of a mixed bag as folklore references go and its taken to an extreme where the pixie must speak the truth even when its rude rather than the wider belief that the Good Folk don't lie but can be very deceptive. I'm still including it here though as its an aspect of fairy folklore not often mentioned in media. 
  5. One of the elves holds a serious grudge against all humans because of the actions of a few and because of a hurt done by a human (unintentionally) long ago. This definitely seems to reflect the stubborn nature of the Good Folk. The reaction of the elf and actions she takes because of it are also quite extreme which is also very reflective of older folklore. Elves always tend to have extreme reactions when they react to things.
  6. The humans kidnap an elf child. So this isn't fairy folklore obviously but I did find it to be a fascinating reversal of changeling folklore, where instead of the elves taking a human child the humans take an elven one, for nefarious purposes (as a prisoner to prove magic exists)
  7. Elves have magic which is both benevolent and malevolent. This is another thing that often gets treated badly in movies and tv, where we see elves as either effectively magicless or as mostly able to do helpful things (think Tauriel's healing spell in The Hobbit for example). In this movie we see elves both healing as well as using magic in more negative ways to control or attack others. I enjoyed the nuance of it. 
So, overall I found the elves to be especially well done in this movie and was quite surprised that they were handled as well as they were considering its a children's movie which are usually the worst culprits for mauling the older beliefs around fairies (TinkerBell and Fern Gully I am looking at you). The overall personalities of the elves and pixie were also pretty much in line with what folklore would have us expect and I appreciated that. For what it is - a blatant Santa origin movie - its actually very good and surprisingly true to wider folklore around these beings. 

*okay that part was kind of weird to be honest but I'm not opposed to a depiction of an entirely secular Christmas

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