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The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly, retold by Bronwyn Davies

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 29, 2014

I’m not very enthusiastic about the fairy phenomenon that seems to have engaged so many little girls, but I did like this book.  It’s a retelling of a fairy story by Pixie O’Harris that would make most modern readers gnash their teeth in dismay because it promoted conformity and obedience to gender roles that are now obsolete. Bronwyn Davies has updated this story so that it fits more comfortably with contemporary life, and the edition is complemented by illustrations from Pixie O’Harris and other images from the collection of the National Library of Australia.

Here’s how it goes: the Queen of the Fairies banishes the fairy who wouldn’t fly because she needs to learn to be like everyone else.  Other fairies lift up the heads of flowers after rain, they help lame beetles and they save silly baby birds.  In other words, their role is to nurture and care for others (and presumably not to aspire to the role of the powerful Queen).  There is no room in Fairyland for lazy fairies…

But the Fairy-who-wouldn’t-fly was not the same as other fairies.  Instead of working, she wanted to read, to sleep, and to dream.  And when she woke, she would wonder about things.  She wondered where the wind came from, and wondered how seeds knew what kind of flower to grow into.   (p.3)

Too bad, is the Queen’s verdict, so the FWWF is whisked away to the Woodn’t, a place full of idiosyncratic rebels like the Kookaburra-who-wouldn’t-laugh and the Bee-who-wouldn’t-live-in-a-hive.  The FWWF is both pleased and irritated by the assorted manifestations of wilfulness, and she misses Fairyland – but she still doesn’t want to be like everyone else.

It so happens that a small human stumbles into the dell with her, and it takes a combined effort and some unaccustomed cooperation from the rebels to restore him to his mother.   This makes for a return to Fairyland where the Queen welcomes back the FWWF who is then able to show her that Fairyland can make a place for individuals who have ideas of their own.  Pleasingly, not everyone capitulates: the Bee still fancies freedom:

I want to explore new places, and I want to find out what’s killing the honey bees.  I need to live on my own for  a while and have time to think. (p. 40)

This retelling allows the FWWF to be true to herself, and the Queen gets a bit of a makeover too.

The Fairy Queen smiled at the Fairy.  She was so brave and honest.  “It’s very hard to tell a Queen that she’s been wrong, and I thank you for it.  The Bee will be most welcome in Fairyland when she completes her investigation.”  (p. 46)

So, if we must have little girls tripping about in sparkles and tulle, The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly is an alternative that suggests that girls can have agency in their own lives.

Author: Bronwyn Davies
Illustrator: Pixie O’Harris
Title: The Fairy that Wouldn’t Fly
Publisher: National Library of Australia, 2014
ISBN: 9780642278517
Source: Review copy courtesy of the NLA

Direct from the NLA Bookshop
Or Fishpond: The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly

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