#bedtimestories is a feature in which writers reminisce about their favourite work of children’s literature they read or had read to them as a child and why it remains so important to them today. What were your favourite bedtime stories? Let us know in the comment section below.
The Fairies – William Allingham
Wee Folk, Good Folk, Marching all together.
My Dad used to read to me most nights when I was little. In fact my Dad read to me most nights when I was not so little, but we were both too attached to the habit to let it die. He is an extrovert; an old-thespian at heart and I delighted in being entertained by him. But a bedtime story that still grips me now wasn’t one my Dad usually read. This was one from my mum’s repertoire…a body of work, which airs on the side of the eerie, the Grimm and the adrenaline boosting.
“Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, We dare n’t go a-hunting, For fear of little men”
I’m not entirely sure why, but my mum’s out-loud reading voice was always very jagged. Often half-whispered, she’d pause for breathe in a maverick manner that doesn’t really sit easy on the ear. Perhaps because she is such a prolific personal reader, whizzing through pages at a pace I could never quite fathom, that when reading to a small child, she would try to slow down with a series of short intakes of breathe. But, it’s this choppy account of William Allingham’s mischievous and menacing fairy kingdom that I remember.
Our copy of The Fairies creaked when you opened it. It had a burnt-orange hard cover, and was landscape. I remember the book’s illustrations so vividly. These small, powerful creatures marching backlight by the deep orange cover, so that they looked almost like shadows whose maniacal expressions you could still just about see. Each pesky sídhe is brought to life by Hague’s rich drawings; they’re flawed looking, and dirty but still somehow charming. So close to being human but so far removed from the full-sized men in the book who are smoother, more gentrified.
Looking back over the poem now, it really is strange just how creepy the whole thing is. It introduces these magical creatures that live in black mountain-lakes with frogs for watch-dogs, but the whole time you’re reminded how they scare human hunters. The poem has this oddly playful metre, which bounces along in a way that contrasts with the dark actions of the fairies. This is why the book gave me a genuine thrill. Allimgham subverted my expectations of happy, pretty fairies and I could feel my heart jumping harder as the light singsong was used to beat out a story of mythical creatures that could be dangerous in their search for fun.
The capricious fairies kidnap a pretty girl and she is so long kept from her friends that she dies with sorrow! Obviously, these fairies are sinister. They misjudge her death for a deep sleep, and so keep her “Deep within the lake, On a bed of flag leaves, Watching till she wake.” The fairies turn out to be a very possessive lot and build a barrier of thorn trees to stop daring men from rescuing Bridget. They are misguided and led by childish whims. They scared me. They were not nice creatures. They belonged to a world of goblins and ghouls not fairy-dust and sparkling wings. And yet…
They had royalty and lived in this enchanted world with dark magic and I really wanted to be part of their troop! Ok, so maybe not the abduction bit, but I wanted to jump across vast streams to my mushroom home, living off crispy pancakes with a pelican for a ride and the chance to dine with the “Queen of the gay Northern Lights”. These are fairies in the pagan sense, and their evil magic was so much more exciting to a tom-boy like me then any Tinkerbell in a skirt.
Thea Young is a Leeds based, Cardiff raised girl from Gloucester. She loves the theatre and is currently producing High School Musical and working with The Hungry Bitches on their production of Americana (slight contrast). When she’s not behind the scenes, she loves to write songs and sing them to friends, people in pubs, and anyone who will listen.
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(Image sourced from: www.vintagechildrenbooks.com)
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