The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure
It all started in when nine-year-old Frances told her family about the little men she saw around the beck (a Yorkshire word for stream) behind the house. While her father was away serving in World War I, she and her mother had moved in with her aunt, uncle and older cousin, Elsie. The adults laughed and teased Frances about her belief in fairies. Elsie didn't take kindly to the teasing and defended Frances, going so far as to draw and cut out fairies, prop them around Frances and photograph the scene. Surely, the photograph would stop the teasing! To build credibility, Frances took another picture of Elsie with a different fairy. Before too long, the teasing stopped and all was forgotten. Frances and Elsie never intended the photographs to be shared with anyone outside their parents, let alone with author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who went on to write several articles about the girls and the fairies. Frances and Elsie never intended to create a worldwide hoax. But that's exactly what happened. The Fairy Ring tells this unbelievably true tale.
When The Fairy Ring arrived in a shipment from Junior Library Guild last spring I thought there had been a cataloging error. The MARC record indicated it should be shelved at 398.45 LOS. A book about fairies in the nonfiction section? But then I noticed the parenthetical "(a true story)" under the title. Did they mean to tell me that two young girls actually fooled people into thinking that fairies were real? Intrigued, I began flipping through the book and was immediately drawn to the photos of Frances and Elsie with the fairies. To my 21st century eye and mind, they looked fake. Obviously fairies aren't real! And wouldn't the average person agree? How could these photos possibly have fooled the world? It's hard to believe, but they did. In The Fairy Ring, Losure pieces together the photographs of the Cottingley Fairies went global. Incorporating both the original photographs and correspondence between Elsie's mother and a representative from the Theosophical Society - and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! - she illustrates just how the technology, societal temperament toward magical spirits and chance circumstances came together to turn the photographs from a private family matter to front page news. Skillful research wrapped in a compelling novel-like narrative makes this a wonderful book to read while snuggled under a blanket with tea (or hot cocoa!) during a cool fall afternoon or winter's day.
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