An Analysis of Fairies as a Literary Device In Medieval Folklore

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Medieval folk tales, or "lais" (a French term refering to the balladic form many of these tales used to survive until their chronicling), frequently contain elements of magic or reference to fairy powers. These otherworldly components are lingering elements of pagan beliefs and traditions, considered the "old ways" or "old religion," that existed prior to the coming of Christianity to medieval Europe.


A number of saints holidays (that happened to coincide with older holidays) help to ease the layperson's transition from pagan beliefs into a more Christian view of the world. These beliefs in the old magic evolved into literary devices when incorporated into folk tales, frequently used to either juxtapose the new and old beliefs, to distinguish between the two, to either reconcile them or to show the superiority of the new religion, as Christianity soon became omnipresent in medieval life. These Christian elements came to be exhibited retroactively through romantic tales of chivalry, for what was once an ethos of "might makes right" soon were thought to exemplify such Christian ethics as the mighty defending the weak, or the application of mercy. The reverence of the Virgin Mary developed into a reverence of all women and the notion of courtly love. However, these patterns spread slowly. To examine these elements in an evolutionary, if not exactly chronological, orderone can focus on such examples as the lais "Bisclavret" and "Yonic" by Marie de France and the J. R. R. Tolkien translations of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "Sir Orfeo."
Marie de France's lais "Bisclavret," or "The Werewolf," approaches the notion of magic through the title character's curse of transforming into a werewolf. ...
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