So Signe Pike is a sweet and magical being who up and quit her job in New York publishing to search for the world for fairies… and I mean in an awesome, adventurous, open-hearted manner and not a lame one. In case you were worried. The result was her absorbing, lyrical memoir, Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World that came out last fall. Signe also looks very marvelous whilst wearing white dresses and wandering about fields, as evidenced by the photo at left, and she makes a very awesome companion for one attending FaerieCon. Which she and I did together this past November, appearing on panels with Brian and Wendy Froud, showing up at masked Faerie Balls, and heading into Baltimore to get tattoos on hands and calves. As you do.
Our Q and A follows.
You travelled around the world searching for fairies for your book Faery Tale. Can you tell me about that? What prompted this journey?
Well, when I was a little girl, I took authors at their word when they said “Once upon a time.” In reading stories of mermaids, elves, dwarves, faeries and unicorns, and I always believed that in some distant era, perhaps so long ago that we have ceased to remember, that just maybe these creatures were real. As I got older, of course, I relegated my belief in the mythical to the nursery, like we all do. It took the unexpected death of my father to make me step back and examine my life – I found I had a lot of questions about the nature of human existence. Around that same time, I was living in Manhattan working in book publishing, and my friend Raven Keyes (who lived in my building) told me my apartment was absolutely FILLED with faeries. At first I thought she was just having a go at me. But no, she was deadly serious! Of course I didn’t believe her, but I found I was moved by the innocence in my friend’s belief and I thought, Hey, if I as a skeptic, went around interviewing people who still believed in faeries, and did everything they instructed me to, maybe I could present a more balanced point of view on the whole faery debate. People who believe in things the rest of us think are mythical are labeled whackos and geeks, or on a good day, just plain ridiculous. But maybe I could start at the beginning, put in the historical and travel research the topic required, and see what the story really was. I mean, we all just assume faeries don’t exist. But life is too short. Now I prefer to always ask myself, What if? Maybe all us grown-ups running around with our heads up our butts have been giving the poor faeries short shrift. And so my adventure began . . .
Did mermaids ever crop up in your travels?
No, and actually, I was surprised. Maybe it was because I was visiting land-locked areas like the English countryside. . . but then again, I did spend some time by the ocean on my journey as well. I think once the faeries heard I was on their trail, they were a bit possessive you know? They were probably like, “Shut up, mermaids, and get out of our face! This is OUR book.” And then the faeries pulled taught their bow and arrows, and the mermaids were like, “Darn! All we have are these silly tridents!” And so they had to give up.
How do you compare fairies and mermaids?
I think mermaids are the faeries of the sea. If faeries are earth spirits connected to the land — as many ancient peoples used to believe from Japanese to the Celts — it would make sense that there are different types of beings in different environments on our planet.
What do you think pulls us to these magical creatures? What do they mean for us?
Magical creatures entice, and when we’re lucky, can truly inspire our imaginations. Religion and the question of existence have loomed large for the human mind since we were painting on cave walls. We ask ourselves questions like, What happens when we die? Is there a God/gods? What are ghosts and do they exist? Because somewhere inside we have a kernel of hope in the possibility that there is something more to our lives than meets the eye. That’s what I wanted to investigate in Faery Tale. Because if I could find evidence that creatures like faeries exist, doesn’t that mean there is the potential for everything else? In my opinion, if there’s a god, if there are ghosts, then there are things that exist beyond our daily realm of sight, sound and touch. Maybe there are thing that to know, we just have to feel.
Do you think there is value in our cultivating of these beliefs?
Absolutely! Cultivating magical beliefs in children is especially important. As children, we are taught that anything is possible, and we are encouraged to believe – it helps feed our imaginations and makes the world such a wondrous place to play in. But we can’t apply the same principles to adults. As adults we have the opportunity, and I believe the responsibility, to investigate. Seeking proof, behaving in ways that better ourselves each day – these are the foundations on which we thoughtfully build our belief systems as we grow older, and ultimately, this is what makes belief have more meaning. I find people who don’t question, who accept anything without using their abilities to sort, test, and assess things in a logical way, pretty terrifying.
Do you think there is a spike in interest in the Fae right now, specifically — and if so, do you have any ideas as to why that would be?
I joke in the book that faeries come in and out of fashion just like shoulder pads. Perhaps not the best analogy, now that I consider it, because shoulder pads are hideous and probably should never be in fashion. But during the romantic era they became all the rage, and in our lifetimes we’ve seen a rolling resurgence that began in the late 60’s, faded in the 90’s, and is growing even stronger today. I think it’s interesting that during historic time periods when we began to focus more on the environment – like the romantic poets who were so inspired by their walks in the woods – or in the 1960’s when we first became aware of environmental implications with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – we see a resurgence in interest in faeries. Perhaps it’s the beauty and incredible sophistication of nature that inspires us to believe in magical things.
What do you think about mermaids, anyway?
I adore mermaids. If I were a better swimmer, I might think about writing my next book about them! I live in Charleston, South Carolina and sometimes when I’m on the beach alone, looking out at the ocean, I’ll see little bubbles within the atmosphere that seem to be swooping and hovering above the water. There have been times when I’m out at night near the ocean and I just feel so inexplicably drawn to the ocean – I just want to be in it, and it feels like the safest place in the world. It’s these subtle things, the real things we see and feel, that can lead me to investigate, or lead me to believe. The real life sort of magic is the magic I’m interested in.
Have you had any fan letters from any faeries or mermaids since writing Faery Tale?
I have, actually! I’m really lucky in that I get really amazing notes from readers all the time, but just the other day I got a note today from Dana Mermaid. She’s a woman who lives in Hawaii and likes to swim with whales and dolphins, and she wrote me saying how much she loved the book. I went to her website and was totally thrilled watching the video of her powering through the ocean with her glorious man-made tail and flowy blond mermaid hair. I couldn’t believe Faery Tale swam all the way to Hawaii. Faeries don’t like getting wet. They leave that up to the mermaids. So that was a real honor.