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Fantasy Visions Of Fairyland - Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2240 words Published: 13th Apr 2017

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Fantasy and the fantastic were a popular subject in the early 19th century, growing from the popularity of the fairytale, and texts such as Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" (1865). With the emergence of children's literature's 'first golden age' (Watson, 2009), Victorian children were more revered and sacred than ever before, their literature focused on the child, bringing entertainment through the fantastical. Visions of the fantastic for instance fairyland were also anthologised for children from original adult texts such as William Allingham's poem 'The Fairies' (1850) or depicted in plays like J.M Barrie's 'Peter Pan'(1904).

By looking at these differing visions of fairyland, it will be seen how they compare and contrast to each other and to the ideas of traditional and Victorian fanciful ideas of fairyland.

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'Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen' (Allingham, 2002, ll.1-2) [1] , William Allingham's poem 'The Fairies', conveys a reflection of the surroundings of his Irish birthplace in Ballyshannon, an ancient town boasting its own Fairy Mound of Red Hugh (Joyce,1906). With his strong folklore roots influencing the essence of his poem, 'The Fairies', reiterates a conviction in the belief of mystical figures, where although time has changed their ideology , belief in their supernatural powers and associations with birth, death and loss remain consistent.

A.M. Barrie used this similar knowledge of fairy folklore to create an imaginary fairyland for Peter Pan. Barrie was already a successful playwright, and it is viewed that this play was a culmination of his adult novel 'Little White Bird'(1902), and the fairy play 'Bluebird in Fairyland'( Hicks,1901). His visions of fairyland as we shall see certainly seem to be wrought more so from the accepted fashion of fairies, and the views on treasured childhood, within the Victorian /Edwardian culture, and popular theatre. Stemming also from the imaginative play of his adoptive Llewellyn boys, and based partly on his interactions with them and his own life. Barrie takes the mythical folklore shown in 'The Fairies' and discards and transforms these beliefs into his own individual view of fairyland.

Barrie used the popular fairy imagery of Victorian fantasy characterised by Tinker Bell, who, portrayed as a miniature, beautiful, delicate woman with shimmering wings, epitomised the stylistic ideals of how fairies were then viewed. This fairy symbolism, depicted by tiny fairy lights carried into the theatre of the time from plays such as 'a midsummer's nights dream' (1596), and the phenomena of the Christmas fairy plays, later to mould into the pantomime.

Allingham and Barrie's portrayal of these diminutive beings are far removed from their earliest folklore imagery, the fairies of ancient Ireland ,originated as a godlike race of rulers as large as mortals , the 'Tuatha De Danan', but through advancement of time and knowledge; 'the superhuman champion has become the little man with the green coat,' (Norreys et al,1920, p547) . An image used by Allingham to portray his little men in green jackets and red caps (Fairies). Removed further from their heritage the little people also became synonymous with birth and death, demons and fallen angels, and were thought to steal children and leave a weak fairy changeling in return.(Norreys et al,1920)

In Peter Pan, Barrie delivers an idealistic opposing view of the origin of the fairy, 'when the first baby laughed …the laugh broke into a thousand pieces …and that was the beginning of the fairies' (Barrie, 2008, Act I, I, ll. 400-5) [2] . Referring again to make believe, children create fairies and they create fairyland, to believe in them you need to be as a child. His play also encompasses the theme of birth and death, taken from birth both Peter Pan and the lost boys are dead to their parents, as they are to them (PP). As Greenhalgh (2009) states ideas of fairyland in both texts have emerged from and engaged with the culture that shaped them, Allinghams poem is set in an old world environment dominated by real fairies. As in folklore they live in nature and are unavoidable, in mountains, hillsides, beaches, and lakes. We see Columbkill, 'Slieveleague to Rosses' crossed by the ancient fairy king, areas of great natural beauty in Ireland. He crosses on a bridge of 'white mist'(Fairies, ll. 21) ,on his 'stately journeys '(Fairies, ll.23), suggesting as with Peter Pan his weightlessness , and ability to fly without wings, as he visits other royal fairies 'the queen of the gay northern lights'(Fairies, ll. 27-28), signifying widespread structured fairy kingdoms.

In contrast, Barrie's Peter Pan, claims to have run away and lived with the fairies in Kensington gardens, representative of his first meeting with the Llewellyn boys, later moving on to Neverland, the faraway outer world land of the fairies, rather than inner worlds of the fairy moulds of Allingham. A magical, and dangerous place, that is moulded by the imagination of the children, yet controlled fully by Peter Pan ,he controls the night and day the sun, and seasons, 'and everything knows that they will catch it from him if they don't give satisfaction'(PP, Act 2,I, ll.20-25). We can then conclude that Peter is himself as a fairy, and his supremacy would suggest he is the fairy king, or a godlike entity, untouchable by mortals. Showing similarities to Pan, the mythological faun god of ancient Greece, representing nature, spring, and fertility, Peter is, in fact, a symbol of nature dressed ' in autumn leaves and cobwebs' (PP, Act 1,1 , ll.315-320), Wendy also returns for spring cleaning ,and prominently both deities have a love of the panpipes.

A distinguishing feature between play and poem, is the differing representation of time and death, with Allingham, the fairies although ancient do, succumb to old age, as with the old king, 'He is now so old and gray, He's nigh lost his wits.'(Fairies, ll.18-19) evidently their life span or perhaps concept of time being far different than ours. Humans taken to fairyland conform to this longevity, as in the sad fate of little Bridget, dying of sorrow as after seven years in fairyland equated to centuries here (Fairies).

Peter Pan by contrast never grows up, epitomising forever childhood, he does however represent a dangerous, and fickle figure, reflected in his selfish attitude to Wendy 'How he would like to rip those stories out of her; he is dangerous now' (PP, Act I, I, ll.495) equating again to Pan, and the childish ignorance of mortal needs by gods and supernatural beings. Allingham's fairies also abduct and end lives without remorse and leave thorns in the bed of those who dare cross them.

Pan creates and kills at a whim, but has no real concept of time or his actions such as when he forgets the Lost Boys and Captain Hook (PP). Although Peter himself shows no sign of age or death, his fairies do, they seem inconsequential Peter can speak their language but it bores him, they have short lives and in his later visits Tinker Bell is forgotten, also unlike Allinghams, these fairies have little capacity to run their own lives as with Tinker Bell being 'so small she has only room for one feeling at a time' (PP, Act 2, I, ll. 250-255). Almost as though they are only a part of Peter's controlling imagination, as is the pirates, indians and fairyland itself, Neverland only comes alive when he returns. In difference to 'The Fairies', time, however, does seem to run in parallel, the Darling children return to their world in the same timescale.

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Both texts reveal kidnap of children, Peter lures the Darlings 'there's mermaids Wendy' (PP, Act I, I, ll.500-505). While Allingham tells a more traditional tale of fairies who take mortals to their world, 'they stole little Bridget' (Fairies, ll.29). The essence is that nowhere is safe, certainly not straying from home 'we daren't go a hunting for fear of little men' (Fairies, ll.3-4), to meet a fairy can mean to be taken, and in effect loosing your life to fairy time. Similar to the cautionary tales of young girls straying into the clutches of men, as representative in many fairy tales. Allingham acknowledges this similarity in his reference to "Snow White", as Bridget is returned and kept in death 'on a bed of flag leaves' (Fairies, ll. 39) in the bottom of a lake watched by little men till she wake, the fairies are not aware of her death. Unlike Neverland, death seems to be either an unknown concept, or as with Peter Pan mortal existence is simply not acknowledged, as in the naive play of children no-one really dies.

Both texts also represent dangers close to home, the children are abducted from their own nursery, Bridget was quite possibly stolen from her home, and the lost boys taken when falling from their prams. Conceivably both replaced with fairy changelings, as Peter Pan states, his window was barred and another in his place (PP). Indicating a further danger, boys stray, but girls 'are much too clever to fall out of their prams' (PP, Act I,I, ll. 450) twentieth century girls were cosseted at home, but fairies are able to enter through locked doors whether to place thorns in a bed or to steal children . There is perhaps a subtle warning on allowing the danger in, and as with Wendy being led astray, the stranger may well be disguised as a friendly fairy, or another child. Both fairylands keep the child as a child as long as they remain, but their return can mean death, either physical or death of childhood, and time of innocence.

In some ways there is little difference between story telling, poem and play, 'The Fairies' is a hybrid text, of narrative prose and poetry which, with its almost song like formation, gives us a dynamic aspect of storytelling, creating its frightening vision of fairyland and tale of kidnap. Similarly Barrie's esoteric vision of fairyland traverses well into theatre however as Peter Pan seems more than a play, it can and does easily transform into other media. Peter Pan although scripted to be performed also has a narrative, a particularly excessive narrative that could not be fully reproduced on stage .Thus relating back to its story telling origins, seen in its act 4, 'do you believe in fairies ? Say quick that you believe!' (PP, Act 4,I,ll.275 -280), a unique departure from traditional plays .We see direct audience participation with its question and answer as in story telling or as White et al (2009), would suggest, pantomime . Bringing us back to the emergence of the storyteller and the aural traditions of the folk and fairy tale (Swann, 2009), and so portraying remarkable vivid visions of fairyland.


Barries vision of fairyland and Peter Pan reflects the transient nature of childhood, demonstrated when Wendy asks Peter where Tinkerbell is, and he doesn't remember her, supposing she is dead, a sad reminder how children have short memories in childhood, fleeting contact with both magical and real companions, as the once valued are forgotten, a lost world highly prized by adults. He gives us a unique vision of fairyland, children's carefree imagination creates it and their disbelief destroys it .Barrie sees the time of childhood imagination decreasing as the world develops 'Children know such a lot now. Soon they don't believe in fairies, and every time a child says 'I don't believe in fairies' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead'(PP, Act 1,1,ll.410-415) signifying earlier death to childhood, as children mature quicker. Even with the first laugh of every baby creating a fairy, there are still 'nearly all dead now' (PP, Act I,I, ll. 405).The imagery of Peter Pan perhaps can also be viewed as to be based on Barrie himself , a diminutive perplexing figure , who struggled with adulthood ( Hollindale 2009). Preferring the company of children and their imagination, perhaps this is also his lament that childhood is not given sufficient time, at the time child labour and colonialism was still much in evidence, children were forced to grow up quickly. It can additionally be seen as a plea to adults to re-create their own carefree youth, something which the mature audiences of his play had no hesitation in doing, in response to Barrie's pantomime request 'do you believe in fairies ?', suspending their belief and becoming a child again.

In a similar manner 'The Fairies', can also be seen as the death of childhood, Bridget remains a child only in fairyland, to leave represents the loss of a child to actual death, or to adulthood. Similar to Peter Pan, it gives the same sense of the nineteenth century's view of precious childhood, also ambiguously touching on the approach to puberty, and the loss of a daughter to marriage and childbirth.

Despite having contrasting ideas of fairyland both poem and play explore 'the ambiguities of an adult desire to preserve childhood as an aesthetic spectacle' (EA300, Block 3, p128), and use their ideas of fairyland as a means to preserve this most fleeting and precious commodity.


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