Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Scattered thoughts on the Helper Fae

(A quick aside to put in a completely unpaid shill: I am really, really enjoying Pandora. If you're in the U.S., you should give it a try. It's an Internet radio station that chooses songs tailored to your own musical preferences. The more songs you tell it about, the more it will attune itself to the music you like -- not based on individual bands or songs, but on the separate melodic and other elements of each song you like. It's fascinating and it seems to work quite well.)

Right then. *puts on fairy spectacles* It's time for a bit of lore and wisdom regarding the Helper Fae, a class of fairy beings to which a Laundry Faerie certainly belongs.

As long as there have been human beings, there have also been certain members of the Fair Folk who have taken a particularly keen interest in their doings. Of course, their connection to the human world varies a great deal -- from those who take particularly fetching humans into the fairy realm as their lovers, to those who steal away human children and replace them with changeling babies -- and a very few fae who, for the sake of love, give up their immortal existence to join the human race. A certain number of disparate fae, however, have an interest in humanity that is more kindly than obsessive. These beings -- who often live cheek by jowl with humans and usually aid them -- are herein referred to as the Helper Fae.

Insofar as most human beings are aware of fairies at all, it is probably through tales and legends of the Helper Fae who have made their presence known over the years. Most of the Western world has heard the childhood tale of the Shoemaker and the Elves, and many children grow up with the knowledge that if they put their baby teeth under their pillows, the Tooth Fairy will exchange the teeth for money or treats. Resident brownies were known to help around English country houses and farms, if they were properly cared for. Likewise, in Sweden, a farmer will bless his good luck if he inherits a farm with a resident tomte (or, in Norway, his close kinsman the nisse), and will just as likely curse his luck if he fails to put out a bowl of porridge for his red-capped neighbor. Likewise, in Hawai'i, the menehune -- tiny master builders who can complete massive projects in a single night -- are just as likely to be mischievous as helpful, and it is unwise to provoke them to anger. There are, of course, many other Helper Fae whose names and functions are not known to the mass of human beings, but all tend to have a few things in common: they like to reward humans with a strong work ethic and a love of vocation, they like to have their work acknowledged (usually with a favorite food or a small treat), and they are extremely dangerous when crossed.

It may seem unusual to hear the phrases "Fair Folk" and "work ethic" in the same sentence; to humans, most of what they know of the Fae suggest that they are carefree (not to say careless) beings concerned primarily with play -- which can certainly be the case. But immortal beings, just like mortals, can become bored and restless with the status quo. As the more ancient fairies begin to tire of the constant intrigues of the Seelie Court and seek out more interesting pursuits, perchance their eyes may light upon the brief-lived humans. As they study these beings and recognize the harshness and swiftness of their lives, these fae may begin to experience a sense of pity or empathy for human beings -- especially in situations where individual humans "sing behind the plow," or show a distinct pride in their work. In such situations, fae often quietly insinuate themselves into the mortal world to assist human beings by being industrious.

Helper Fae, even the ones most friendly to humans, usually operate from a sense of noblesse oblige -- after all, they are immortal beings that, out of their sense of goodness and fair play, condescend to assist mortal humans. As such, they expect -- and, in some cases, demand -- respect and recognition for their efforts. Realizing that human beings cannot offer the lush delights of Faery, the Helper Fae usually require tribute of a more humble sort, the kind even a relatively impoverished human being can provide -- a bowl of milk for the fairies or butter for the elves, a bowl of hot porridge for the farm tomte, even a token tooth from a child. Offerings such as these allow humans to show that they have noticed and appreciate the efforts of the Helper Fae; they also help to encourage future assistance from these beings. In cases where human families are open with their gratitude, Helper Fae have been known to become exceptionally loyal to their families; one particular tomte actually emigrated from Sweden to America to continue to be near "his" family.

If Helper Fae are fiercely loyal when well-treated, they can also be furious when scorned. In Hawai'i, the menehune once began work on the Alekoko Fishpond with the understanding that no mortal would watch their progress. Despite this warning, the royal princess and her brother crept out to the work site to watch the thousands of tiny men at work, and fell asleep in the underbrush. They were eventually discovered by the menehune and turned to stone. This level of punishment among the Helper Fae is far from rare; although these fairies are fond of "their" humans, they brook neither disobedience nor disrespect from mortals.

That's all for tonight; a dryer load is calling my name.


tlc illustration said...

I keep hoping for house-brownies... I even went through a period where I left out tiny mugs of milk and honey in case any could be enticed. Alas, to no avail...

Say hello to your dryer. :-)

Terri /Tinker said...

I had no idea fairies were so strict!

Soozcat said...

Tara: My dryer says "HOWDY MA'AM" in a deep basso profundo.

Terri: I think our sense of "rules" must rub off on the fairies who spend the most time around us. But, uh, don't tell them I said that... ;)

tlc illustration said...

Your dryer has a much better voice than mine.

Soozcat said...

Well, it's new, you know. When it gets old, it'll probably sound like Don Knotts.