Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure

The Fairy Ring: or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure is narrative nonfiction -- and for this story, that works pretty well. In England, during and just after the first World War, cousins Elsie and Frances performed a little bit of harmless trickery with Elsie's dad's camera. Using hatpins and some cleverly crafted paper figures painted by Elsie, the girls falsified pictures of fairies that they said lived at the spring near their house. This could have been a simple family joke -- the girls did it because the father was teasing them about fairies -- except that, through a series of coincidences, the fairy photos fell into the hands of a group of theosophists. These men were inclined to believe in things like nature spirits, ghosts, and yes, fairies. One of the most notable members of the group was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. Could such a brilliant man be taken in by the girls' little prank?

The author of this book gives a good sense of the girls' characters as she sees them: funny, artistic Elsie, who likes a good laugh, and who dislikes those who would write her off as "just" the daughter of a working man; and Frances, the more serious of the two, the one who does actually believe that she's seen fairies at the spring, and who resents the intrusion of the media and the men who want to measure, categorize, and quantify the fairies. The author is also very lenient toward the girls, pointing out that they would have gotten in a lot of trouble if they had confessed that the pictures were fakes after people outside of the family got involved -- and pointing out that the girls were continually underestimated by said outsiders, because they were young, because they were girls, or because they were poor.

I had heard mention of this story before, but I didn't know much about it. This brief book presents a good deal of information in a very readable fashion.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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