Many of us had Fairy Tales read to us as children and this was my introduction to ‘fairies’. It was only as an adult that I was introduced to ‘faeries’. These creatures weren’t well-behaved miniature-sized creatures with wings, but (mostly) badly behaved human-sized creatures without wings. This left me a little confused.
I am no expert; most of what I have learned about faeries has been through commonalities in novels based on Faerie folklore (and some very basic internet research). It would seem (in theory) there is no difference between Faeries and Fairies. However, in the world of fantasy fiction a distinction has been made between Faerie Tales and Fairy Tales.
This is my take on it.
Fairy tales tend to have two distinct types of characters; the goodies and the baddies. The protagonist, usually female, is inherently good and comes up against an evil threat, often a relative - by blood or marriage (e.g. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Cinderella). Traditionally there is a chivalrous male protagonist who comes in and saves her. The lines between good and evil are clearly drawn and the characters behave as you would expect (Wicked step-mother – bad, Fairy Godmother – good etc.).
Faery tales on the other hand are quite different. Faeries come from a mystical realm somewhere other than the human world. They have the ability to move between the two and when they are in the human world are able to disguise themselves through ‘glamour’; tricking humans into thinking they (the faeries) look human. Rather than family members at war there tends to be two opposing courts (sometimes more) led by a regent. On the surface one side appears good (examples include the Seelie, Bright and Summer Courts) while the other appears bad (examples include the Unseelie, Dark and Winter Courts). However, unlike in Fairy Tales, things are rarely that black-and-white. A key characteristic of a faery is that it cannot tell a lie. As such, it has to be creative in finding ways to hide information and to get things it needs done. This could be a reason why they are neither inherently good nor inherently bad, but comfortably flit from one side of the line to the other, and back again. This makes for interesting reading in my view.
My introduction to Faery Tales was Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series, which remains my favourite (although I preferred some in the series to others).