Elves, Fairies and Changelings.
Continuing from here.
Terry Pratchett disliked what authors like Tolkien had done to elves, so he based the elves in Discworld more on the much nastier folk fairies. This was very influential on me, as I believe Lords and Ladies was probably the first Discworld novel I read. In Discworld elves are basically parasites with no emotions, imagination or empathy. But they want to create so they steal human artists, and they take children to be their toys.
My sci-fi created elves began with Titania, who is actually very intelligent and creative (she created a kind of crystalline life form which grows and can be molded using acoustics that she uses to create weapons and armor for her children), and possibly engineered many other life forms of her own. When she changes people however, she typically uses her telepathy to subdue the persons memory and will, turning them into a drone (with only a few exceptions like Tenley, Ella and Lily). This brings me neatly to talking briefly about the very darkest aspect of fae in folk tales – Changelings.
Traditionally, a Changeling is when a fairy switches a human child for a fae child, like a kind of Cuckoo. Sometimes though the fairies may just leave a ‘fetch’ – an enchanted piece of wood that would be appear to rapidly grow old and die. There are many possible reasons they might do all this – either the human children are taken to be servants, or because the fairies need their love. Sometimes it’s said they need a human mother’s milk to survive.
One way to expose a Changeling was to confuse it by cooking or brewing in eggshells. Apparently they can’t stand nonsense and would speak. Medieval Europe was a very silly place.
But there is a genuinely very dark side to all this. Changelings were likely just a way for people to explain children who didn’t develop normally, such as children with autism, or born with disabilities. Children thought to be Changelings were often abused, or killed. There are incidents of this happening even relatively recently, such as in 1826 a woman with a four year child who couldn’t speak attempted to ‘drive the fairy out of him’ by bathing him in a river. The boy drowned. Or Bridget Cleary, a woman who in 1895 fell ill, but whose husband believed had been replaced by a Changeling and in his efforts to cast out the fairy and get his real wife back, burnt her to death.
Which is all kind of genuinely very upsetting and depressing isn’t it… there was a way to prevent children being stolen by leaving a pair of iron scissors in the baby’s cradle. Which is funny, right, because that… that wouldn’t be safe at all.
Ah, forget it. I told you they were nasty little f***ers.