I’ve long been besotted with the Cottingley Fairies story even going so far as to use it to frame a talk I gave on literary fairy tales. Thinking I might write a kids’ book about it one day I went on to do a ton of research, but now along comes Mary Losure who has done even more research than me and written that very book, The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Mary Fool the World. Darn you, Mary! Just kidding as this is one terrific book (that I reviewed in the March Horn Book — starred no less).
The story, if you don’t know it, involves a handful of so-called fairy photographs by two young girls in 1917 Cottingley, England. It was the time of spiritualism and a great yearning by many for fairies and such to be real. So when prominent types such as Arthur Conan Doyle heard about the photos the story went viral (in the early 20th century manner, that is). Even after growing up, Elsie and Frances insisted for years that the fairies in their photographs were real.
My adoration for the story is because I vividly remember spending time in gorgeous places myself as a child where, being highly imaginative and prone to fantasy play, could easily have convinced myself that fairies inhabited the area. A butterfly seen in the corner of my eye? Really a fairy. So I totally get how it may have for Frances, the impressionable younger girl. And the fun Elsie may have had encouraging that play and belief. Until it all got away from both of them.
Losure provides her own take on the story — say why the girls (especially Elsie) may have been inclined to make-up such photographs, much about Conan Doyle’s and the other adults’ need to believe, and much more within the context of the times. Sympathetic, fascinating, well-researched (and I should know:), clearly written, this is an all around great read.