"Fairy Tale: A True Story"

"Fairy Tale: A True Story"

A true and "true" story

I remembered watching a movie when I was a little kid when I oddly got onto the topic of fairies the other day. The film I remembered depicted tiny fairies, dressed in pinks and yellows and backlit with shining light. I looked up the movie this morning and found out that it was called Fairy Tale: A True Story and depicts the true story of two British girls who commune with fairies and take their pictures. In real life, these fairy photographs were sent to the press and became an international phenomenon. Also, in real, these photographs were not real, but were spurred by the want for people to believe in magic.

Fairy Tale the movie tells the story of Sir Arthur Conan (yes, the author of Sherlock Holmes) who believes that the current belief system in England was flawed. During the earliest 20th century in England, people believed that scientific innovations like electric light and photograph could shed light on mystical happenings. The movie also brings Harry Houdini back to life, a man who, ironically, believes that it’s all fraud.

Outside of the famous realm, we follow the lives of Arthur and Polly Wright and their daughter Elsie. Elsie is twelve and her father dotes on her, building her little model fairy furniture and model fairy houses. Her cousin Frances comes to stay with them in the house, waiting for her father, who is missing in World War I, to return.

Polly’s son has just died and she wants to decide for herself whether or not there is an afterlife. Polly starts attending meetings at the local Theosophical Society and brings pictures that her daughter and niece have taken. The photographs apparently contain images of fairies. The Theosophist lecturer, E.L. Gardner takes the photographs to a professional who says that they were produced without photographic tricks. They are doubly deemed truthful because the men couldn’t see how children could perform tricks of this kind. Conan-Doyle and Houdini come to visit the girls. Conan-Doyle writes and prints a story about the fairies in a newspaper. The story starts bringing in hundreds of people to their village. The fairies leave and the movie ends with Houdini telling the girls that people really don’t want to know the truth.  

The real story followed a similar pattern with a different ending. In the 1980’s, the girls admitted that the photographs were faked using cardboard cutouts from a popular children’s book, Princess Mary’s Gift Book.. However, both girls said that although the photographs were faked, they had really seen fairies. Frances, however, claimed that the final photograph was real. Both girls claimed that they had taken the photograph, but Frances says that she snapped it when the fairies weren’t looking and the girls were out in the forest. Both girls were embarrassed that they had tricked so many people, especially the famous detective writer Conan-Doyle, so they hid their secret for many years.

Do you think with modern technology that somebody could pull off this kind of supernatural hoax or are people more skeptical now than they were then?