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Fairies are some of the most noteworthy residents of Neverland. They were the first characters other than Peter Pan himself (and of course the goat) to be mentioned in Barrie's mythology, introduced in chapter 14 of The Little White Bird. They are at first introduced off-hand, as if his readers would of course be familiar with fairies, and to an audience of educated Edwardian Brits, they were in fact a familiar literary and cultural reference. But he goes on to explain things about them, particularly their association with children and with Kensington. In Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up the fairies – except Tinker Bell – recede into the background; there simply isn't room for them in the (literally) larger setting of the story. They receive a little more development in Peter and Wendy, where the novel's prose has opportunity to tell more about them.
Tinker Bell rather literally took the spotlight, however, in productions of the play and the films based on it. Subsequently , she was the fairy, until Disney developed the Disney Fairies franchise around her. It introduced a pramload of new fairy characters, and developed a whole new mythology for them. It takes a few cues from Barrie's fairies of Kensington Gardens, but is really a whole separate concept.
Fairies are generally described as human in appearance and having magical powers. Much of the folklore about fairies revolves around protection from their mischief and malice, by such means as cold iron (iron is like poison to fairies, and they will not go near it) or herb charms, or avoiding offense by shunning locations known to be theirs. Buildings would be positioned to avoid supposed fairy paths. In particular, folklore describes how to prevent the fairies from stealing babies and substituting changelings. Many folktales are told of fairies, and they appear as characters in stories from medieval tales of chivalry, to Victorian fairy tales.
Although in modern culture they are often depicted as young, sometimes winged, humanoids of small stature, they originally were depicted much larger. Diminutive fairies of one kind or another have been recorded for centuries, but occur alongside the human-sized beings; these have been depicted as ranging in size from very tiny up to the size of a human child. Even with these small fairies, however, their small size may be magically assumed rather than constant. Wings, while common in Victorian and later artwork of fairies, are very rare in the folklore; even very small fairies flew with magic, sometimes flying on the backs of birds. By Barrie's time it was becoming common to depict fairies with ordinary insect-like wings.
Fairies appear as significant characters in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream, which is set simultaneously in the woodland, and in the realm of Fairyland, under the light of the moon. Fairies in literature took on new life with Romanticism. Writers such as Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg were inspired by folklore which featured fairies, such as the Border ballads. This era saw an increase in the popularity of collecting of fairy folklore, and an increase in the creation of original works with fairy characters. In Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, Puck holds to scorn the moralizing fairies of other Victorian works. Victorian flower fairies were popularized in part by Queen Mary's keen interest in fairy art.
Barrie's fairiesFairies have been ascribed many origins over the centuries, as dead spirits, demoted angels, demons, or pagan deities. Perhaps to clarify, Barrie offers his own:
"When the first baby laughed for the first time, his laugh broke into a million pieces, and they all went skipping about. That was the beginning of fairies."
In the epilogue to the Peter and Wendy when Peter returns to get Wendy for spring cleaning the next year, she asks about Tinker Bell. Peter isn't sure, but answers, "I expect she is no more." The narrator explains, "I expect he was right, for fairies don't live long, but they are so little that a short time seems a good while to them."
When Peter Pan is guarding Wendy from pirates, the story says: "After a time he fell asleep, and some unsteady fairies had to climb over him on their way home from an orgy. Any of the other boys obstructing the fairy path at night they would have mischiefed, but they just tweaked Peter's nose and passed on." (An "orgy" in contemporary use would have been a drinking party, rather than a sexual one.)
- Wikipedia: Fairy