The Faery Queen
For the first time in over twenty years, I spent my Christmas holiday at my grandfather’s house in New England. As a five-year-old, I remember lying awake on the cot in the spare bedroom on Christmas Eve, trying to stay awake past midnight. When the clock chimed, I was positive Santa Claus and a pack of elves would land on the roof. After what seemed like hours, I swear that I heard sleigh bells tinkling. Sure enough, I woke up the next morning to discover that Santa had left presents just for me. Today, my grandfather’s house remains almost completely unchanged, but I don’t feel the same magic anymore. Instead, I’m concerned with train timetables, my tight budget, and all of the work I’ll have to make up when I get home. Luckily, I had packed Signe Pike’s debut memoir in my suitcase to help me tap into my inner child. In Faery Tale, Pike journeys across the world in search of faeries to help her cope with the death of her father and rediscover the magic of her childhood.
Pike, a book editor, is so fed up with her grueling New York City schedule that she quits her job and moves to South Carolina to start a new, more rural lifestyle with her fiancé. When a mystical neighbor convinces Pike to go on a meditation retreat to Mexico, Pike is thrilled—until she thinks she sees a small, troll-like figure hiding in her hotel room. Pike is intrigued to discover that she may have seen an Alux, short for Los Aluxes, a mythical faery creature native to Mexico. To learn more about other mythical creatures throughout the world, Pike sets off on a three-month long trip to research faeries in England, Ireland and Scotland—three countries that are notorious for faery sightings. On her journey, Pike hopes to determine whether faeries truly exist and where she can find them.
Pike’s faery fascination stems from her childhood. “When my father took me and my sister walking, I imagined there were faeries everywhere,” writes Pike. She does not describe herself as being obsessed with faeries as a child, but she didn’t discount the possibility that faeries and other mythical creatures could exist. “When you’re little, it’s perfectly acceptable to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy. Do you remember the incredible beauty of those days?” As we grow up, we are told by our parents and other adults that these creatures are imaginary. As we get older, our sense of hope and magic fly out the window. With an open mind and heart, Pike visits and interviews faery experts all over Europe, including Brian Froud, author of Brian Froud’s World of Faerie and an anonymous faery expert who insists on being referred to by her mystical pseudonym, Ninefh.
The faery experts advise Pike to open her mind to the possibility of faeries, respect the nature around her and allow her subconscious mind to guide her on her journey. As the author visits several historical sites that are well-known faery sighting spots, like a bridge on the Isle of Man known as the “faery bridge,” she notices black feathers on the ground. Rather than dismissing the sighting as a coincidence, she decides they are a symbol left for her by the faeries. As she continues her journey, more coincidences occur—lost tent poles seem to appear out of thin air. Twinkling lights flash through the trees. Strange music is discernable in an audio recording that Pike’s neighbor tapes at one of the faery sites. Instead of brushing off these occurrences, Pike treats them as sacred messages from her faery friends.
Faery Tale is not a book for skeptics, and I have to admit I had to tell my inner Scrooge to be quiet a few times while I was reading. Sure, Pike could have made the entire thing up. She could have imagined the twinkling lights in the woods because she was hoping to see them, or worse, because she was hoping to sell a book. Because we’re taking her word for it, there is no way to prove that Pike is really having the spiritual awakening she insists she’s having. But Pike’s memoir isn’t about “provable” facts—it’s about intuition. And in my intuitive mind, her narrative feels honest. Whether or not one believes in faeries is beside the point. Even if her faery sightings were mere coincidences, they helped her reconnect with a more joyous, hopeful side of herself. And perhaps most importantly, Pike’s connection to the faery world helps her come to terms with the unexpected death of her father.
Throughout her journey, Pike has increasingly troublesome dreams about her father—frightening memories of his insatiable anger and hot temper pop into her mind. In these powerful flashbacks, the author proves that she is a mature and masterful storyteller, capable of deep self-reflection. Young Signe is a frightened child who hopes for a better relationship with her father. “I still blamed him for a lot of my fears,” Pike reflects. “Maybe that was a part of why I was having so much trouble getting over his passing, letting him go.” Although the author acknowledges that the pain of losing her father will never go away, her connection to the faery world helps her reconcile her flawed relationship with her dad. “He did love us,” Signe explains to her sister on a faery journey to Ireland. “He just had so much more to figure out about himself.”
In my favorite part of the book, Pike ventures to the spiritual community of Findhorn, Scotland. Pike attends a guided gnome meditation where she imagines a helpful gnome watching over her house in South Carolina. I tried shutting my eyes and imagining my own gnome, but nothing appeared. I am either closed off to the world of mystical creatures, or there aren’t any gnomes watching over my rented house. But as I shut my eyes, laughing a little as I tried to envision a friend with a pointy hat guarding my living room, I realized that believing in gnomes, fairies or Los Aluxes is no more ridiculous than believing in anything intangible, like job security or the stock market. And if Pike’s belief in mystical creatures helps make her life more manageable, isn’t that what’s really important?
I haven’t had any visits from faeries or other spiritual beings since reading Faery Tale, but the book did help me recall the magical and hopeful way I used to approach everything in my life as a child. As I read Pike’s memoir in my grandfather’s living room, I paid homage to the young girl who found wonder in the world around her. I probably won’t be faery hunting in Ireland anytime soon, but Pike’s whimsical adventure helped me set my real-life worries aside and remember to listen closely for sleigh bells.
Books mentioned in this column:
Lindsay Champion's writing has been featured in Time Out New York, The New York Press, McSweeney's, Fray Quarterly (available now at Barnes & Noble), Common Ties, SMITH Magazine, and in It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, published by Harper Perennial. Lindsay is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has written hundreds of articles for numerous Internet publications, including Travels.com, Livestrong.com and Trails.com. She received her BFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied writing. After living in New York City for six years, Lindsay has relocated to Los Angeles for some reason. She lives in Studio City, California, with an albino goldfish named Betty White. New York Words is Lindsay’s web site. Contact Lindsay.