Exploring the World of the Fey
One of my current projects is the first book in a new series. The first entry is A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale (tentative for an early May pub date right now). I’ve had a lot of fun with this project since it’s allowed me to get back to some of my roots as a writer. I love my athletes, but I’ve never been someone who was drawn to contemporaries. Give me historical fiction and high fantasy any day.
One of the reasons I write fantasy is because I find the “real world,” well, kind of boring. I mean, I live here. It’s not that exciting. Writing, for me, is an escape of sorts. Why would I choose to write about the realm I inhabit on a day-to-day basis? I mean, there’s an argument for writing about yourself as an actor or a model or a sports star, but why be that when you could be a queen? Or an elf or a unicorn or whatever else?
The other reason I love writing fantasy is the chance to draw on mythology. I’m fascinated by Greco-Roman mythology. Later, I began exploring other mythologies as well. Stories about fantastical creatures and realms have always appealed. And, I think, exploring these mythos allows us to engage in a form of modern mythmaking while simultaneously exploring something deeply rooted in the human condition.
Suffice to say I like big expansive worlds and fantastical creatures. In A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale, one type of mythological creature is the fey.
Fairy, Faery, Fey
First, why use the word “fey”? Within the story, “fey” is both the plural and the singular form. “Faery” is occasionally used, but it’s considered older and outdated.
The term “fairy” is commonly used within literature to refer to fairy tales, which is why I evoked it in the title. This isn’t your typical Cinderella story.
The term evolved around 1250-1300, from Middle English, when the spelling was “faierie.” Since spelling wasn’t standardized until the late 1700s, different versions of the word arose in common English usage. Edmund Spenser used “faerie” in his 17th century poem “The Faerie Queene.”
The term comes down from Old French, “fay-ierie,” meaning “enchantment” or “fairyland.” The modern spelling, fairy, has also been hijacked to become an offensive term for a homosexual man, particularly one who acts in a stereotypical feminine way.
The term “fay” (or fey) and the spelling “faery” is somewhat more “authentic,” and is usually preferred by folklorists who try to separate out modern notions of “fairies” from the older and more traditional concepts in folklore. Disney gives us Tinkerbell and calls her a “fairy”; folklorists look at the conceptualization of “fay” in Celtic mythology.
The term “fay” is singular. The plural is sometimes formed by making it “fey,” although “fey” is actually an adjective. The word indicates someone has been “enchanted,” oftentimes put under a spell by a fairy. “Fey” can also be used to describe creatures with magical powers more generally.
Why use “fey” as both plural and singular, and not fairy, faery, or even fay? Quite simply because it has the right connotations without any of the confusion of the other terms. It’s even gaining popularity among groups of enthusiasts who wish to discuss fairies and like creatures under one umbrella term.
Fiddach: The Fey Homeland
The world of A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale has some loose parallels to our own world. The various nations can be mapped onto various ancient civilizations.
The name of the fey homeland, “Fiddach,” is actually an ancient name for Scotland. The fey are a northern-dwelling people who live in some proximity to Rus, Norcross and the Nords, among other peoples. This roughly approximates the geography and cultural groupings of northern Europe.
Fairy lore is closely associated with the peoples of the British Isles, particularly with the Celts. The fey of Fiddach actually speak a language rooted in Celtic/Gaelic languages. Viridian, one of the main characters, indicates as much when he discusses the titles used to address royalty and nobles among the fey.
The Monarchiete and the Monarchiere, Cyan and Jonquil, rule Fiddach. Currently, however, Fiddach is subservient to Rus in the east, the seat of the Rus Empire.
Fiddach is a northern realm and experiences short summers and long, harsh winters. It’s rich in minerals and timber.
Anatomy of a Fey
In this realm fey are human-sized creatures, although they’re typically slender, fine-boned, and dainty. They’re humanoid, but they also have insect-like features. They have large eyes, antennae, and enormous butterfly-like wings.
Fey begin with no sex. They’re referred to with the pronoun “fen.” Fey children change from nymph to adult by cocooning, often for a period of ten years. During this time, they develop their adult sex and their wings.
Adult males and females are relatively similar. Males have slightly larger wingspans, usually with more brilliant colors. All fey have color-themed names, which they are born with. The name usually corresponds with the color of their adult wings. Fey mothers “intuit” the names of their children before they’re born. The fey interpret this as a form of divine knowledge. The gods distribute names.
Fey are unable to stomach human food. They exist solely on nectars, syrups, fruit juices, fresh fruit, and flowers (in that order of preference). The males also ingest blood for additional protein, and possess specialized teeth to create puncture wounds. They also produce a sleeping powder on their wings, which lulls their victim to sleep.
Male fey are technically hermaphroditic. The males produce both sperm and eggs, which is why males require additional protein, but females do not. Fey develop their adult sex during the cocoon stage of their lives. Males develop in isolation from other fey. Male hermaphroditism appears to be a species survival mechanism; a lone cocoon would develop into a male capable of reproducing alone. In colony settings, males will mate several females before self-fertilizing to ensure the maximum number of offspring.
Some consider fey “nature spirits” of sorts. They are magic-users, and there’s some speculation they’re related to the Nords of Norcross, who are also magic-users but are wingless. Fey most often lack the power of flight, but their wings are important as social status markers, markers of reproductive ability, and as sources of medicine, particularly the sleeping powder produced by the males.
Their fantastic wings and magical abilities have made them the stuff of legends in many of the southern empires where fey are more rare. Southern fey exist, although they tend to be different from their northern cousins. Many peoples around the world value fey wings for their supposed medicinal value.
Fey are quite social and prefer to live in big colony groups. There are relatively few of them, however. Reproduction takes a long time, and young fey often die before reaching maturity. Poachers steal cocoons frequently. These people enslave or kill baby fey.
The fey have their own endemic religion, centered on a series of nature gods. The forest goddess is the most important deity, contrasted against other cultures where the sun is the primary god.
The fey religion is polytheistic, and includes deities of the forest, rivers, mountains, sea, land, sky, rain, and night and day. The fey live long lives, although they die from disease, starvation, and injury. Fey do not have a concept of the afterlife, and their pantheon does not contain a personification of death. Those who die are “taken back” to nature. They are placed back into the natural world through processes of decay. Thus, for the fey, even death is not a permanent state and in being one with nature one achieves a sort of immortality.
The fey religion is primarily a “sunny” one, punctuated with festivals and rituals for warding away evils. Fey have relatively few conceptions of “sin” or wrongdoing. They prefer to focus on harmony between all people and all aspects of nature. Fey may not necessarily see death or illness as evils. Interpersonal relationships are punctuated by reciprocity.
Nonetheless, the fey do systemically punishing wrongdoing. In fey society, the greatest wrongs are those that cause others pain or suffering, or disrupt the social status quo. Most fey consider greed quite evil, since it leaves others around you with less. Lying in order to harm someone is considered a great evil than lying to protect yourself, and lying to protect others from harm or upset is often seen as a relatively minor infraction.
Gender Identities, Relationships, and Parenting
Fey identify at least four genders. Fen (neither) is typically for the asexual children; “fian,” associated with those identifying as female; “fion,” associated with those identifying as male; and “fon,” associated with those identifying as both male and female. The word “fey” refers to the people themselves, in both plural and singular.
Understandings of oneself as one gender or another shift throughout the lifecycle. A male may identify as male early on in life, then later shift to a predominately female identity, depending upon sexual and reproductive roles and partnerships. All fey begin neutral, and they typically self-identify before they enter the cocoon. Most parents acquiesce to the child’s wishes.
Males and females tend to hold similar power and ranks, although males, including those identifying primarily as “fian,” sometimes discriminate against “true” females.
Only the upper classes practice marriage, since there’s an emphasis on ensuring bloodlines and lineages. Many encourage sexual freedom and see sexual openness as a way of maintaining relationships between even casual friends. Partner-swapping is frequent, and it is not unusual to find large families with three or four “pairs” of adults who change partners as desired. Parents communally rear fey children.
The issue of parentage is rarely a concern in the lower classes, particularly since both males and females can become mothers. If parentage is a true concern, a male can self-fertilize to create the desired offspring. Many fey die during their nymph or cocoon stages, so fey society has evolved to place an emphasis on reproducing the maximum number of offspring and then ensuring the maximum number survive to adulthood.
Where to Find Fey
If you’re looking for these fey, you can find them in A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale, available May 2018!