The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World
Mary Losure (Juvenile Non-Fiction)
Elsie loved a good laugh, she loved to paint, and she didn’t like being teased. Needless to say, when her young cousin, Frances, was being mocked by her family after she told them that she had seen fairies down by the stream, well it was enough to make Elsie’s blood boil. But when they had the audacity to begin teasing HER, that simply was the last straw! Elsie thought up a clever plan to show the adults that fairies were in fact real and she would do so by offering up photographic evidence. Little did Elsie know at the time that her fairy photos would someday attract the attention of someone who really did believe in spirits and fairies. Someone who her own father admired and adored. Someone by the name of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Author Mary Losure said that her idea for The Fairy Ring came after a visit to an independent bookstore in Minnesota. There she came across The Coming of Fairies by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—a book built around the photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths and the implications behind their much-believed authenticity. Frances wrote her own book, Reflections on the Cottingley Fairies, a memoir that was completed by her daughter, Christine Lynch, after her death. Looking at the original photos now, people would obviously see them as the forgeries they were. But back in 1917, a time when the news cycle was dominated by the First World War, the demand for legitimacy may not have been on the forefront of anyone’s mind.
It is remarkable how two girls—ages 15 and 9—were able to pull off what would later be known as one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century. What is even more astonishing was their ability to wholeheartedly ensnare one Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. How could one of the greatest authors of his time, and a medical doctor to boot, have been so gullible? Doyle was a scientific man, but he was also spiritual and the death of his son, Kinglsey, in 1918 caused him to fully embrace spiritualism and the idea of spirits and otherworldly beings. With that in mind, it’s no wonder why in mid-1919, when the Cottingley fairy photos were made public, that Doyle was quick to embrace the idea that fairies were indeed real, thus bringing some semblance of validation and comfort to a still grieving father.
Elsie and Frances’s story is as fascinating as it is unbelievable. Remarkably, both women kept their secret long enough so that many reputations, including that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, were kept intact and untarnished. It was a hoax that would transcend all others and spawned simply because one talented and easily offended teenager simply didn’t like being teased. While Elsie eventually admitted to revealing the truth, Frances—even up to her death—never wavered from her belief in fairies. Even Sherlock Holmes may have been inclined to believe in the Cottingley fairies for he once said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Are fairies impossible? I, for one, would like to believe that fairies exist, for in the grand scheme of things, what harm would there be really to believe otherwise?
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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