Two Classic Irish Short Stories set in the Fairy World
"The Child Stolen by Fairies" by James Le Fanu (1868)
A deep seated belief in the supernatural seems to be an element in the Irish Short Story. Alongside the beliefs sanctioned by The Church is vast structure of beliefs in fairies, witches, evil omens, leprechauns and much more. This supernatural world is imposed on the mundane one we appear to live in. Historians might tell us that such belief structures are often found among the powerless peoples in colonized countries as a form of coping with their frustration with their situation. Sometimes Irish Fairies could be evil and sometimes the Fairys could be reasonable.
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814 to 1873-Dublin) is considered a leading writer of 19th century Ghost
Stories and supernatural tales. In his most famous work, his novella Carmilla, (1872) a lesbian vampire is the central character. He seems to be the first author who made use of lesbian vampires in his stories. He had an interesting life that you can read more about here. I was also very happy to see that almost all of his novels and a lot of his short stories can be read online on the web page of the library of the University of Adelaide. His work is considered to have strongly influenced the work of Bram Stoker, also from Ireland, the author of Dracula.
Le Fanu's prose style does not at all feel old fashioned or arcane to me. Much of the history and pain of the common Irish country people is wonderfully shown in "The Child Who Was Stolen by Fairies".
The story is short and beautifully told and you can read it if you want in just a few minutes so I will not say much of the plot. The story is very Gothic, very atmospheric and very scary. A mysterious carriage, more beautiful than anyone has ever seen, is passing through the village. When young Billie comes out to see it, a beautiful women beckons him into the carriage with an apple. As the children look into the carriage the shadows a horribly ugly woman with face that would scare the devil sitting next to the beautiful woman. Billy gets in the carriage. His mother is driven to great despair as she fears Billie is lost forever. Once and a while he seems to appear at the door to her hut, her other children say they have seen him briefly in the village. Then he disappears for years. One day the mother returns and sees him in her house for sure. He is dressed in the worst rags, is filthy dirty, and looks starved. As the mother rushes to him, he disappears never to be seen again. I think this story is in part about how parents tried to cope with the starvation of their children in the great Irish famines of the 19th century in which millions died.
"The Fairies' Dancing Place" by William Carleton (4 pages, 1855)
William Carleton was a writer I first became aware of during my research for Irish Short Story Week. (I hope Irish Short Week II will be March 11 to March 21, 2012.) Carleton (1794 to 1869-Clogher, Ireland) received his initial education in Irish folklore from his father. Carleton did not get a lot of formal education but he made up for this by a love of reading. He worked at various clerical and teaching jobs. He began to write articles and stories. He soon was able to support himself from his writings and went on to become one of Ireland's best known novelists of the time. He always had a deep interest in Irish Fairy lore. I think it is for his stories of Irish fairies that he is now most read.
"The Fairies's Dancing Place" is a short simple feel good type of story. Lanty M'Clusky had recently married and he decided to build a house on his six acre farm. There was a beautiful green circle on his land and he decided to build his house there. Everyone told him "No don't do that it is a dancing ground for fairies". M'Clusky says he does not care he is building his house in the circle. Once the house is built he says before he and his wife move in he will host a big party there for everyone he knows. Everyone is having a great time when they suddenly begin to hear strange noises from the attic and roof area. They hear what sounds like 1000s of tiny foot steps above them. Then the hear a voice that says, "Hurry, we must tear this house down before the dance tomorrow". Even the very bold young M'Clusky becomes worried. He asks the leader of the faires if his house can be let standing until the morning at which time he will tear it down himself.
The ending is fun and I will not tell any more of the plot so as not to spoil it.
"The Fairies' Dancing Place" is just a simple fun story. It is not great art. I am glad I read it and think most readers will enjoy it. It is another one of the 1000s and 1000s of works that make up one of the world's great bodies of literature, The Irish Short Story.