Weekend Wibbling: From Peri to Fraggles

Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been contemplating fairy mythology in kidlit and TV, specifically fairy proxies like The Fraggles and The Borrowers. This idea – that there is a whole world of tiny, wise and/or mischievous creatures, that are perhaps difficult for grown-ups to see or believe in – seems to be a resonant one.

I know next to nothing about cross-cultural children’s literature and mythology. Most of the webstuff I can find seems to be about Euro fairy stories – gnomes, and elves, and Sidhe, and such. Mythopoetica says that the word might be Persian in origin, from “Peri”. How cross-cultural are fairy tales? Does anyone know about fairy stories in Eastern, subcontinental, African, or (indigenous) American or Australian cultures?

What’s your favourite contemporary tale of Little People?

Categories: Culture, history

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9 replies

  1. Not actually myth but playing with myth: Pratchett. He’s got the Carpet People, and the nomes from the Bromeliad trilogy, and then the Wee Free Men from the Tiffany Aching stories (trilogy so far, but I’m sure there’s more to come).
    I like the way such stories play with the different perceptions involved purely from the size of the people, and how that means that they make sense (or nonsense) of the world of the Big People.
    Something many Pterry fans may not yet have seen – Pterry’s own original illustrations from the first edition of Carpet people in 1971 when he was 17 (when the rewritten book was reissued in 1992, Josh Kirby did the illustrations).

  2. Fairies seems to be rather European in origin, but there are a number of myths about small people in Africa, Asia etc. Of course, all my reference books are in storage, so I can’t give you any names. Sorry.
    My current favorite contemporary tale of Little People is Charles de Lint’s The Blue Girl. It’s brilliant.

  3. Thanks! Pratchett is a big gaping hole in my reading, and rectifying that has been on my Giant List of things to do when I finish my degree.

    I might try to research more about any Asian and African little people folktales.

  4. Generally African folktales, including those about little people, seem pretty nasty in nature. Guess living on a continent where there are quite a few animals who consider you food, would make colour the folktales.

  5. The Lad might even be ready for Pratchett’s nomes, Lauredhel.
    Certainly by next year.

  6. Kristjan, If I remember rightly Charles de Lint had a few African myths bound up in some of the early stories that got anthologised by Marion Zimmer Bradley. No little people there though, from memory.

  7. There are the Quinkins in Aboriginal stories – some of them steal children, some of them protect children. Probably roughly equivalent to the bogey man. I would guess that there are a lot of different tribal stories that could be characterised as ‘fairy’ stories, but whether any of them have survived to be written down is debatable.

  8. Of course, the Quinkins. There’s a scary picture book about them. Are they Little People?

  9. I think some of them were little and some of them were tall and skinny. I’m remembering from pre-school here, so it’s all a bit vague.

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