Tolkien and the Fairies of British Folk Tradition


  • Dave Weldrake


Fairies, Fairy, Elves, True names, Brides, Wood elves, High elves, high elf, wood elf, traps, trickery, Tuatha de Daana, Ireland, England, Stories, folk, folk tales, tradition


Author David Weldrake wishes to expand the readers comprehension of what a fairy may be – more than just the small, winged creature no larger than a butterfly. He discusses the brownies, the hobs, satyrs, and the most famous Tuatha de Daanan of Celtic Ireland, of which Weldrake believes Tolkien took inspiration for his High Elves. He draws this conclusion based on their mannerisms, skills, and appearances. They were human sized, skilled craftsmen, skilled singers, and were told to have brought light and knowledge to Ireland. Tolkien’s elves, in comparison, were human sized, skilled craftsmen, skilled singers (as songs could be heard all throughout the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit whenever the elves were involved), and fought the forces of darkness through the world, for the side of light. He then goes into more minute details, about how Wood-elves lived in underground castles (much like how fairies live under hills), and how some elves lay “traps” for those who wander through their territory. For the Wood-elves, this looked like capturing Bilbo and his party of Dwarves when they tried to interrupt their merriment. For the High Elves, it was more subtle. Bilbo made mention many times how he felt he could never leave Rivendell, and that “time doesn’t seem to pass here”. This is another trope in fairy lore, where visiting the fairies may lead to staying longer than intended. Weldrake tells the tales of several British fairy stories that correspond with the present example, and then discusses the “fairy bride” concept, which describes Aragorn and Arwen’s relationship (though, an exception to the general woes those relationships foster). Weldrake then continues his analysis to the concept of “true names”. In traditional folk tales, like Rumpelstiltskin, the fairy creature loses bargaining power, and most power it seems, if someone discovered their true name. While this is not widely discussed in the books, Treebeard does indeed make comment on this, telling the Hobbits that they are too hasty in giving out their names, and there are many beings out there that may try to use it against them. Whether or not this is just a passing line, as it is never brought up again, stays in question.




How to Cite

Weldrake, D. “Tolkien and the Fairies of British Folk Tradition”. Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 4, Sept. 1971, pp. 9-13,