Sometimes Elsie drew gardens in faraway countries.
Once, she drew Titania, the queen of the fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The fairy queen lay sleeping on a bank, her lovely dark hair spread all around her.
Elsie had copied her out of a book illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Arthur Rackham was a real artist, famous for his illustrations of fairies.
But Elsie’s own fairies–the dancing ones that everyone said were so beautiful–were torn up and buried in the beck. The painted paper gnome was long gone. Their photographs lay forgotten in a drawer. For all Elsie knew, no one would ever look at them again.
And maybe that’s what would have happened if, one winter day, Elsie’s mother hadn’t decided to go on an outing. . . . (55-57)
Nine-year-old Frances was tired of being made fun of when she claimed to see fairies in her cousin’s backyard where she was staying during the war. Her older cousin Elsie had an idea to prove that the fairies existed by painting paper fairies and taking Frances’ picture with them. Once the photos were developed, that sure put a stop to the teasing. It was only meant for their parents, but things got out of hand and eventually people were requesting more photos and using these photos as proof that fairies actually existed. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote those great mysteries about the detective Sherlock Holmes, thought the pictures were real! What are Frances and Elsie going to do, and how far should they go to save their secret?
This book is somewhat unique in that it is a work of nonfiction but it reads like a novel. Readers are in on the joke from the very beginning as we see Frances and Elsie scheme to trick the adults. But Frances maintained until her death that she had seen real fairies in that glen and that while they had staged most of the photographs, one of them wasn’t staged and was real. Nonfiction typically doesn’t leave questions, but this book does. There’s still a mysterious quality about fairies and their existence that I think the author intentionally attempts to leave open-ended.
I think the other interesting aspect of this story is that they never meant for it to draw international attention to themselves. In fact, they were very hesitant and reluctant to talk to the press, and I get the impression they wanted to bury the story but just didn’t know how. But they also continued to tell people close to them, such as their ultimate husbands and children, so in a way they were continuing the story even as they told their children to never mention it again. Their attitude about it seemed so fluid that’s hard to really know what they were thinking, especially since the trick seemed to last about 60 years until it was conclusively determined to be a hoax. But as I mentioned before, Frances and in turn the author maintains that pestering feeling that something is missing and not quite determined. I think I’ll end with the fact that these uncertainties create a slightly unsettling story out of a very well researched and documented occurrence.