By Louise Imogen Guiney, 1887
"And never would I tire, Janet, in Fairyland to dwell."
So runs the song. Who would weary of so sweet a place? At least, we think of it as a sweet place; but like this own world of ours, it was whatever a man's eyes made it: good and gracious to the good, troublous to the evil. According to an old belief, a mean or angry, or untruthful person, always exposed himself, by the very violence of his wrong-doing, to become an inmate of Fairyland; and for such a one, it could not have been all sunshine. A foot set upon the fairy-ring was enough to cause a mortal to be whisked off, pounded, pinched, bewildered, and left far from home. It was a strange experience, and it is recorded that it befell many a lad and maid to be loosed from earth, and cloistered for uncounted years, to return, like our Catskill hero, Rip Van Winkle, after what he supposes to be a little time, and to find that generations had passed away. For those absent took no thought of time's passing, and on reaching earth again, would begin where their lips had dropped a sentence half-spoken, a hundred years before. Tales of such truants are common the world over.
Gitto Bach (little Griffith) was a Welsh farmer's boy, who looked after sheep on a mountain-top. When he came home at evenfall he often showed his brothers and sisters bits of paper stamped like money. Now when it was given to him, it was real money; but the fairy-gifts would not bear handling, and turned useless and limp as soon as Gitto showed them. One day he did not return. After two years his mother found him one morning at the door, smiling, and with a bundle under his arm. She asked him, with many tears, where he had been so long, while they had mourned for him as dead. "It is only yesterday I went away!" said Gitto. "See the pretty clothes the mountain-children gave me, for dancing with them to the music of their harps." And he opened his bundle, and showed a beautiful dress; but his mother saw it was only paper, after all, like the fairy money.
Our pretty friends enjoyed beguiling mortals into their shining underworld, with song, and caresses, and winning promises. Once the mortal entered, he met with warm welcomes from all, and the most exquisite meat and drink were set before him. Now, if he had but the courage to refuse it, he soon found himself back on earth, whence he was stolen. But if he yielded to temptation, and his tongue tasted fairy food, he could never behold his native hills again for years and years. And when, after that exquisite imprisonment, he should be torn from his delights and set back at his father's door, he should find his memory almost forgotten, and others sitting with a claim in his empty seat. And he should not remember how long he had been missing, but grow silent and depressed, and sit for hours, with dreamy eyes, on lonely slopes and wildwood bridges, not desiring fellowship of any soul alive; but with a heartache always for his little lost playfellows, and for that bright country far away, until he died.
Often the creature who has once stood in the courts of Fairyland, is placed under vow, when released, and allowed to visit the earth, to come back at call, and abide there always. For the spell of that place is so strong, no heart can escape it, nor wish to escape it. Thus ends the old romance of Thomas the Rhymer: that, at the end of seven years, he was freed from Fairyland, made wise beyond all men; but he was sworn to return whenever the summons should reach him. And once he was making merry with his chosen comrades, a hart and a hind moved slowly along the village street; and he knew the sign, laid down his glass, and smiled farewell; and followed them straightway into the strange wood, never to be seen more by mortal eyes.
A wonderful and beautiful Japanese story, too, the ancient Taketori Monogatari, written in the first half of the tenth century, tells us how a grey-haired bamboo-gatherer found in a bamboo-blade a radiant elf-baby, and kindly took it home to his wife; and because of their great and ready generosity to the waif, the gods made them strive in purse and health; and how, when the little one had been with them three months, Kaguyahime, for that was she, grew suddenly to a tall and fair girl, and so remained unchanging, for twenty years, while five gallant Japanese lords were doing her strange commands, and running risks the world over. Then, though the emperor, also, was her suitor, and though she was unspeakably fond of her old foster-parents, and grieved to go from them, she, being a moon-maid, went back in her chariot one glorious night to her shining home, whence she had been banished for some old fault, and whither the love and longing and homage of all the land pursued her.
Many sweet wild Welsh and Cornish legends deal with shepherds and yeomen who set foot on a fairy mound by chance, or who, in some other fashion, were transplanted to the realm of the dancing, feasting elves. But they have a pathetic ending, since no wanderer ever strayed back with all his old wits sound and sharp. He seemed as one who walked in sleep, and had no care or recognition for the faces that once he held dear. And if he were roused too rudely from his long reverie, he died of the shock.
A merrier tale, and one which is very wise and pretty as well, is current in many literatures. The Irish version runs somewhat in this fashion, and the Spanish and Breton versions are extraordinarily like it. A little hunchback, resting at nightfall in an enchanted neighborhood, hears fairies, from their borderlands near by, singing over and over the names of the days of the week. "And Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday!" they chorus: "and Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday." The boy thinks it rather hard that they do not know enough to finish their musical chant with the names of the remaining days; so, when they pause a little, very softly, and tunefully, he adds: "And Wednesday"! The wee folk are delighted, and make their chant longer by one strophe; and they crowd out in their finery from the mound, bearing the stranger far down into its depths where there are the glorious open halls of Fairyland; kissing and praising their friend, and bringing him the daintiest fruit lips ever tasted; and to reward him lastingly, their soft little hands lift the cruel hump from his back; and he runs dancing home, at a year's end, to acquaint the village with his happy fortune. Now another deformed lad, his neighbor, is racked with jealousy at the sight of his former friend made straight and fair; and he rushes to the fairy-mound and sits, scowling, waiting to hear them begin the magic song. Presently rise the silver voices; "And Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday"; whereat the audience breaks in rudely, right in the middle of a cadence: "And Friday." Then the gentle elves were wrathful, and swarmed out upon him, snarling and striking at him in scorn; and before he escaped them, they had fastened on his crooked back, beside his own, the very hump that had belonged to the first comer! In the anecdote, as it is given in Picardy, the justice-dealing goblins are described as very small and comely, clad in violet-colored velvet, and wearing hats laden with peacock plumes. In the Japanese rendering, a wen takes the place of the hump.
Fairyland is the home of every goblin, bright or fierce, that ever we heard of; the home, too, of the ogres and dragons, and enchanted princesses, and demons, and Jack-the-giant-killers of all time. The Brownies belonged there, and went thither in their worldly finery, when service was over; the gnomes and snarling mine-sprites, the sweet dancing elves, the fairies who stole children, or romped under the river's current, or plagued honest farmers, or tiptoed it with a torch down a lonesome road ~ everyone there had his country and his fireside.
In that merry company were many who have escaped us, and who sit in a blossomy corner by themselves, the oddest of the odd: like the Japanese Tengus, who have little wings and feathers, like birds, until they grow up; mouths very seldom opened, and most amazing big noses, with which, on earth, they were wont to fence, to white-wash, to write poetry, and to ring bells! There, too, were the dark-skinned Indian wonder-babies: Weeng, whom Mr. Longfellow celebrates as Nepahwin, the Indian god of sleep, with his numerous train of little fairy men armed with clubs; who at nightfall sought out mortals, and with innumerable light blows upon their foreheads, compelled them to slumber. The great boaster, Iagoo, whom Hiawatha knew, once declared that he had seen King Weeng himself, resting against a tree, with many waving and music-making wings on his back. Indian, likewise, was the spirit named Canotidan, who dwelt in many a hollow tree; and the lively fellow, Taknakanx Kan, who sported "in the nodding flowers; who flew with the birds, frisked with the squirrels, and skipped with the grasshopper; who was merry with the gay running brooks, and shouted with the waterfall; who moved with the sailing cloud, and came forth with the dawn." He never slept, and never had time to sleep, being the god of perpetual motion. Near him, perhaps, see-sawed a couple of long-eyed Chinese Shan Sao, or the glossy-haired Fées of Southern France pelted one another with dew-drops. There also, the African Yumboes had their magnificent tents spread: those strange little thieving Banshee-Brownies, wrapped in white cotton pangs, who leaned back in their seats after a gorgeous repast, and beheld an army of hands appear and carry off the golden dishes! There abided, as the venerated elders of the rest, the long-bearded Pygmies whom Homer, Aristotle and good Herodotus had not scorned to celebrate, whom sir John Mandeville avowed to be "right fair and gentle, after their quantities, both the men and the women ... And that he liveth eight year, men told him right passing old ... and of the men of our stature have they as great scorn and wonder as we would have among us of giants!"
Of these and thousands more marvellous is Fairyland full; full of things startling and splendid and gruesome and visionary:
--"full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight, and hurt not."
Any picture of it is tame, any worded description dull and heavy, to you who discover it daily at first hand, and who know its faces and voices, which fade too quickly from the brain. All fine adventures spring thence: all loveliest color, odor and companionship are in that stirring, sparkling world. Can you not help us back there for an hour? Who knows the path? Who can draw a map, and set up a sign-post? Who can bar the gate, when we are safe inside, and keep us forever and ever in our forsaken "deer sweet land of Once-upon-a-Time"?