Friday, 4 July 2014

Fairies at the Bottom of our Garden

In 1917 in Cottingley near Bradford (England) two clever little girls with a camera made fools of people the world over, or rather demonstrated that people were fools already. They cut out pictures of fairies from their books, fixed them up with thin threads in ‘convincing’ positions at the bottom of the garden, and took photographs. These pictures came to the attention of the Daily Mail, whose readers now as then believe just what it suits them to believe, and pretty soon there was a big controversy. Were the pictures genuine? Surely two innocent little girls (in those days people liked to believe (see above) in the ‘innocence’ of little girls) could not or would not have faked them? Among the people who thought the pictures genuine was none other than Conan Doyle, whose best-known character Sherlock Holmes would surely not have been so gullible. To give Doyle some credit, like many other apparently level-headed intellectuals of the time he was deeply interested and to some extent believed in ‘psychic phenomena’, and he may have had some theory that the fairies were projections of the girls’ imaginations and wishes; projections strong enough to cause at least the photographically recordable images of fairies.

Personally I think the girls were initially just fooling about, but when everyone got so excited about it they realized they had bitten off more than they could chew, became afraid to admit their hoax, and tried to brazen it out. Both this nearly life-long insistence on a lie (they only admitted their hoax when they were old women) and the discovery at such an early age of just how gullible ‘adults’ could be probably had traumatic (as we should say now) effects on their personal development.

Below is one of the photographs they took: what is remarkable about it is how very much like the fairy drawings of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Heath Robinson and other artists of the time the fairies are; is it likely that if there really were fairies they would turn out to look just as people had imagined them?


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