I wrote The Fairy Ring for kids to read for fun, but even a story about fairies can be a way of learning about history.

  • fairy-headgearQuestion: Do fairies have to be real for the story of Elsie and Frances to be true?
  • Question: If the story of two real girls named Elsie and Frances is true, is it all true? And where did it come from?

Students might want to take a look at the sources from which The Fairy Ring is drawn:

  • Are they primary sources such as reports, documents, and eyewitnesses? Or secondary sources such as books about hoaxes in general, fairies in general, etc.?

Paper Trails

Like crime-solving, writing history is a matter of detective work.

Unlike characters in fiction, the people portrayed in non-fiction live in the real world, where they leave paper trails. Curious readers can follow the trails left by some of the real people in The Fairy Ring.

Sir Arthur, Mr. Gardner and Mr. Hodson all left paper trails.

If you check the Bibliography under “Other Works Consulted,” you’ll find the book Fairies at Work and Play, by Geoffrey Hodson. In it are many, many more descriptions of fairies he claimed he saw in places all over England.

If you browse a bit further, you’ll find a book called The Doyle Diary. It’s the sketchbook of Charles Altamont Doyle, the father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world’s most famous detective.

The sketchbook shows all manner of strange creatures, including fairies. At the time Charles Altamont Doyle drew them, he lived in an insane asylum.

If you were to read a biography Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you might learn that Sir Arthur’s uncle, Richard Doyle, was a famous illustrator of fairies.

You can find many of his paintings online by searching for “Richard Doyle artist” and choosing images. But an online search is only one way.

On the shelf of your public library you might (if you are lucky) find a gorgeous illustrated volume of Richard Doyle’s fairies. That book would likely have a bibliography, leading you to yet more interesting books. And shelved right next to it you could find other, related, books you might not have thought of searching for online.

One book leads to another, like a trail of clues.

All three of these men, Sir Arthur, Mr. Gardner, and Mr. Hodgson, believed in fairies (or said they did).  All were eyewitnesses–but not necessarily reliable ones.

Elsie and Frances left their own paper trails, but those were much fainter and harder to trace.  Yet when I did find the girls’ letters and (most importantly) Frances’s autobiography, it opened up a whole new way of the looking at the Cottingley Fairies: the story told from the point of view not of powerful men, but of two young girls nobody ever seemed to listen to.