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When the World was Full of Faery: Fairy traditions in Folklore and Literature

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Stories about fairies, pixies and house spirits, whether they are told round a fire or read in a cosy armchair, have had an impact on many cultures.

The aim of this course is to introduce you to a wide range of traditions about these beings and to consider some of the literature in which they appear.

A renewed interest in fairy traditions is reflected in films, literature, art, and lifestyle choices in today’s world. This module traces the history and development of fairy traditions from classical and medieval sources through the art and literature of the Renaissance and Victorian periods, moving on to consider changing attitudes to fairy belief during the Enlightenment and the current revival of interest in these supernatural beings.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through 10 two-hour sessions, made up of lectures, class discussions, small group work and debates. Class sessions will be supplemented by resources available to you via Learning Central.

Topics are likely to include:

  • minor deities in the classical world and their relation to fairy lore
  • Shakespeare’s fairies
  • fairies and witches in medieval Europe, the demonisation of belief
  • fairy traditions in the rational world: spiritualism and science
  • neo-paganism and nature spirits, the revival of tradition
  • fairies, elves and goblins in contemporary fantasy writing
  • the fairy world in art and on film

Students will also have an opportunity to examine some relevant items in the Special Collections and Archives.

Coursework and assessment

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved. Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning. Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

You will complete two short assignments of around 1,600-1,800 words.

Reading suggestions

  • D. L Ashliman, Fairy lore: a handbook Westport, CT: Greenwood Press 2006
  • Nicola Bown, Fairies in nineteenth –century Art and literature Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001.
  • Alaric Hall, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England Woodbridge, Suffolk; Rochester, NY: Boydell Press 2007.
  • Micheal Osling (ed), Fairies Demons and Nature spirits Palgrave Historical Studies 2018
  • Diane Purkiss, Troublesome things: a history of fairies and fairy stories London: Penguin 2001
  • Carole G Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press 1999.

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.


21-23 Senghennydd Road
CF24 4AG