Resources: Katharine Briggs’ An Encyclopedia of Fairies

I wish I could remember where I heard about this book? I am 99% sure it was Seanan McGuire’s blog. Whoever it was, their recommendation was so strong that I went out and secured a used copy as soon as was practical. I have never regretted it.


It is a fantastic book to have on hand if you have any interest whatsoever in British (mostly) fairy lore. I bought my copy as a resource for the novel I’m currently revising, and the main problem with using it is that whenever you dip into it, you find something new and fascinating and want to immediately add the subject to your story. Some of the entries are brief, with just a few descriptive lines. Others encompass entire fairy tales, many of which I had never encountered before. There are some charming illustrations.

I would like to reproduce an entry to give the flavor, though of course many of them are quite long!

Hogmen, or Hillmen. These are among the more formidable of the Manx fairy people. They are described at some length in A Mona Miscellany by W. Harrison. They changed their quarters at Hollantide (11 November), and people kept indoors on that night to avoid meeting them. They were propitiated with gifts of fruit.

One of the virtues of this book is that it calls out how intensely local a lot of fairy lore is. Many of the creatures mentioned have a very specific home turf, or are called by varying names in different places. For instance, Jenny Greenteeth, made relatively famous by Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men, is identified as specific to Lancashire, while similar critters from other areas went by other names.

I should add that the book is not merely a catalog of people, but also includes entries on general topics as fairy food and manners, and explanations of different types of magic common to fairy folk.

Happy reading!

2 thoughts on “Resources: Katharine Briggs’ An Encyclopedia of Fairies”

  1. A professor in the Art Department in your era did his MFA thesis on Fairies, in stark contrast to his political militant anarchism. Well, whether their really is a contrast I’m not sure, but I was merciless in drawing it.


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