When I was young — maybe 10 — I had an invisible friend. My invisible friend was not your average invisible friend; she was a fairy. I was not very original because I called her Tinkerbell, apparently she was descended from the original Tinkerbell. I am not talking about Disney’s Tinkerbell here, but the actual Tinkerbell from the Peter Pan story. My favorite character was Tinkerbell and at some point I decided that Tinkerbell’s granddaughter or great-granddaughter decided to live in my house and be my best friend. She eventually brought a friend for my brother. He named her Daisy. He’s holding her in his left hand in the picture to the right.
In grade school I wrote a very bad story about Fairyland.
However, as much as I loved fairies (and as much time I spent in West Riding Yorkshire) I didn’t hear about the Cottingley Fairies until the late 1980s. A few years later I bought and read Photographing Fairies when I saw a review about it in the Washington Post. I also saw the film version of the book. A few years after that I took the kids to see A Fairy Tale: The True Story.
In 2002 we visited England and stopped to spend some time with my old pal Jeremy and his family who remarked that the village of Cottingley was not far from one of the stops on a day-trip we were planning, so we spent a couple hours in the village, looking for fairies. I’d not put two and two together to realize that Cottingley was very close to the town of Horsforth where I’d spent several weeks over a few summers as a teen and young adult. It annoys me that I didn’t know about the Cottingley fairies at the time because I know that Jeremy’s dad would have taken me there — I think it was even closer to where some of Jeremy’s relatives lived, folks we visited at least once.
Clare and I have made two fairy gardens and I’ve got a pair of fairies among the ivy on an old maple tree in the back yard. In 2008 we visited a real fairyland in Ireland. I won’t even begin talking about the gnomes.
Anyway — that’s the background. Here’s the rest of the story (or not, at least up to now):
On Facebook one day, I saw an advertisement for a book by an author I’d never heard of. I normally ignore advertisements, but this one was for a book called The Cottingley Secret. Of course I clicked on the advertisement and of course I immediately purchased and downloaded the book.
I was still reading The Keeper of Lost Things so it was a few days before I got to The Cottingley Secret. I liked the book a lot — at first I was disappointed that it was not 100% about the cousins in Cottingley, but then I really got to like the present-time story. That one of the “characters” in the book was a bookstore made it even better!
Books that unfold slowly, showing connections between people from different places or times intrigue me. The Cottingley Secret is one of those books and Ms Gaynor does it well. She also developed her main characters, present and past, well — except for her grandmother, but perhaps that was intentional since the grandmother was stricken with Alzheimer’s*.
The book enchanted me and firmly held my attention from the first page to the last, and ended up reading far into the wee hours of the morning to finish. I feel that this book has added to my love of the Cottingley fairy story — given it depth. Someone in the book said something about people that heard the story and wanted to believe it, shaped it the way they wanted it (or something like that). For me, everything I have read about it, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s account, is slightly different, yet all familiar. So the story I carry in my heart about the Cottingley fairies is different from the one someone else might carry because of what I have read and my personal history with fairies.
I have to wonder though, why Mrs. Hogan, who believed her daughter was carried off by fairies, was not more worried about Frances spending so much time at a known fairy hangout.
Spoiler (and the only criticism) below
*The account of Olivia’s grandmother’s death was not realistic to me. Having gone through my mother’s death of Alzheimer’s just last year, the memory is still very vivid. In the book the grandmother was well enough to talk coherently just before Olivia’s trip, but suddenly got worse when Olivia was on her trip and died shortly after Olivia rushed back to Ireland. In my mother’s case the time from being able to talk and make sense to death took months. I realize that the disease does not always follow the same path and for the story the longer path would have not made sense.