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Literature / Flower Fairies

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The World is very old;
But every Spring
It groweth young again,
And fairies sing.
Flower Fairies of the Spring

The Flower Fairies is a collection of illustrations by Cicely Mary Barker, which feature in a series of children's books, often accompanied by poetry. The drawings are Pre-Raphaelite influenced, and notable for their botanical accuracy.

The Flower Fairies themselves are small, childlike fairies, often with butterfly-like wings. Cute and sweet-natured, if occasionally mischievous, they are each associated with a different flowering plant, and dressed to resemble that plant.

The books in the series are:

  • Flower Fairies of the Spring (1923)
  • Flower Fairies of the Summer (1925)
  • Flower Fairies of the Autumn (1926)
  • A Flower Fairy Alphabet (1934)
  • Flower Fairies of the Trees (1940)
  • Flower Fairies of the Garden (1944)
  • Flower Fairies of the Wayside (1948)
  • Flower Fairies of the Winter (1985)

More information about the Flower Fairies, including illustrations of the fairies and a biography of the author, can be found on their official website.

The Flower Fairies provide examples of:

  • Ambiguous Gender: As children, many of the fairies are not clearly male or female—such as Holly, Lords-and-Ladies, and Hawthorn.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Each fairy represents a different flowering plant or tree, which they dress in the style of and exhibit the characteristics of, according to the poems.
  • Cheerful Child: Many of the fairies are depicted laughing or frolicking, with large smiles on their faces, and their poems tend to reflect this.
  • Creator Provincialism: The flowers and names used are all endemic to Barker's native England, and may be unfamiliar to readers from other areas.
  • Common Meter: Used in some of the poems, such as "Christmas Tree" and "Sycamore".
    A little Christmas Tree was born
    And dwelt in open air;
    It did not know how bright a dress
    some day its bows would wear
    "The Song of the Christmas Tree Fairy"
  • Don't Try This at Home: Readers are warned against playing with poisonous laburnum pods.
  • English Rose: The wild rose fairy from The Fairies of the Summer is specifically called the English rose. She's drawn as a beautiful regal-looking girl, with gentle eyes, blond hair, and fair skin with rosy cheeks, and she's dressed in a pink gown. One line reads, "my buds are rosy as a baby’s cheek".
    I am the queen whom everybody knows
    I am the English Rose;
    As light and free as any Jenny Wren,
    As dear to Englishmen
  • Free-Range Children: If they are children at all, the fairies are free to roam the English countryside without supervision.
  • Garden Garment: Many of the fairies seem to be dressed in the petals or leaves of the flowers they represent.
  • The Good King: The Golden Kingcup Fairy is described as reigning over a swampy domain, but being generous with little fairies who come to marvel at his yellow flowers.
  • I Have Many Names: "Bird's-foot Trefoil" discusses this, laughing at the many comical names she's known by like Bacon and Eggs, Cuckoo's Stockings, and Lady's Slipper.
  • I Just Want to Be Beautiful: Fairy U, from the alphabet, is without a flower and melancholy because of it until his neighbor Vetch invites him to share his.
    Poor little U
    Has nothing to do!
    He hasn't a flower: not one.
    For U is Unlucky, I'm sorry to tell;
    U stands for Unfortunate, Ugly as well
  • Our Fairies Are Different: They're small, winged, and associated with flowers.
  • Poetry: Each illustration is accompanied by a short poem, of one to three stanzas, sharing a little information about the flower and its associated fairy.
  • Pointy Ears: All the fairies have them.
  • Shown Her Work: The flowers Barker has drawn are all true to their real life counterparts. Even more impressive seeing as she had to draw both the flowers and the children used for her models at an equal scale.
  • Skip of Innocence: Heather and Holly are drawn skipping with joviality.
  • Vague Age: It's unclear whether the fairies are actual children or just childlike.
  • Winged Humanoid: All the flower fairies look like children, young teenagers at the oldest, and they all have butterfly or dragonfly-like wings of various colours and sizes.
  • Young Entrepreneur: Mallow claims to sell her flower's "cheeses" to other fairies.