So I’m trying to read The Fairy Gaol over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and I’m not liking it. It’s not poorly written, or badly plotted, or any of the other things that typically turn me off of a story, but for some reason it’s just not working for me. After forcing myself through the first thousand words, I realize that there are better things to do on Easter Sunday than read through a story I don’t like, so I get ready to close the window, still not able to put a finger on what didn’t work for me.
And then it hits me like a ton of bricks: I just hate the fae.
You occasionally meet people who arbitrarily dislike one of the standard fantasy creature types. There are those who won’t read anything with vampires, or zombies, or spunky pirate princesses. (That last one is hypothetical, as I’ve never heard anyone cop to it, though I’m sure there’s someone who hates spunky pirate princesses). I had previously thought myself above such petty tropistic prejudice, but it turns out that I do have one such bias of my own. I don’t like faery stories. And coming out and admitting it is very liberating, as I will no longer feel obligated to sit my way through yet another bleeding story about selkies or brownies or the Unseelie Court or God knows what else just because I think I ought to like it. Instead I’ll just say, “I don’t like faery stories,” and move on with my life.
I have no explanation for how I acquired this prejudice. It doesn’t apply to actual medieval tales of the fae, for example–just their modern counterparts. The only theory that I have (and this is a pretty thin theory, for the moment), is that a modern literary style is incompatible with the things I actually like about faery tales. The close third-person POV in a modern discursive style, as illustrated by the story linked above, strips the fae of their numinous aura while keeping their specific abilities, making them seem merely arbitrary and weird rather than otherworldly. This is especially true if the protagonist is a fae, as the entire point of the fae in older literature is that they are inscrutable, incomprehensible, and dangerous, and the only one of those qualities that is compatible with a fae POV is banal danger.
In support of this thesis, I note one faery story that I actually liked recently: The Baroness Drefelin over at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. Note here that the voice is deliberately archaic, and the fae is not the protagonist. In fact, what’s most striking about this story is that it feels like an actual medieval tale–which may be the only thing that makes it tolerable.