You don't have to believe in faeries to enjoy Signe Pike's Faery Tale. But it helps. It also helps to have dressed like Morgan Le Fay for Halloween, to know who Brian Froud is, to love The Hobbit and Labyrinth, and perhaps to have grown up with a unicorn mural painted on your bedroom wall. The book reads like an enchanted travel memoir, which is precisely what the author had in mind. Pike is not afraid of embracing her beliefs in the faery world, not after what she's experienced.
The book chronicles the author's disenchantment with life in Manhattan as a book editor, follows her move from New York City to Charleston (where she occasionally contributes to the City Paper), and ultimately traces her steps through the faery worlds she dared explore in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
"I wanted to write a book for women who loved Eat Pray Love. That book took me out of my life and let me travel with Elizabeth Gilbert," says Pike, who worked for Random House and Penguin, ultimately finding her niche editing women's books. She admits that she didn't consider herself to be a writer. "I was an editor. My job was helping other people put their stories together."
But an encounter at a literati party in Manhattan, fueled by perhaps one too many glasses of wine, launched her on a path through the faery wood, so to speak. She had an idea of telling a literal tale of magic, of writing a book that explored the odd world of believers, talking to the people who actively engage with faeries (these people do exist). At the party, a literary agent encouraged Pike not to give this story away but to take it on herself. She even offered Pike her exclusive services to represent the title. The young book editor, slogging away in a windowless cubicle, working two jobs to pay for her apartment, and inadequately grieving for her father, who had unexpectedly died a couple years earlier, let the idea coalesce into an escape hatch.
"My dad had always wanted to write but didn't, and I think it killed a little part of him," Pike says. "Part of me wanted to do it for my dad because he could never do it."
Inspired and encouraged, she made plans to quit her job, move south with her fiancé, and spend a summer in the United Kingdom on a limited budget, pursuing faeries.
"I was skeptical about faeries," she says. "I thought it would be a light and frothy book that would ease some heartbreak, but it ended up sweeping me off my feet."
Her first step was setting up an interview with Brian and Wendy Froud, the king and queen of the faeries. Brian wrote and illustrated several books, including the seminal Faeries in 1978, an illustrated tome that ignited the imaginations of little girls everywhere, including this reporter, who still has the copy she got for Christmas that year (which might explain why I'm writing this piece). His wife Wendy is a renowned puppetmaker, best known for making Yoda.
Pike's next step was opening herself up to doing weird stuff, despite her skepticism. For instance, she made offerings to the faeries, conducted a ceremony in a garden in the middle of the night, and ultimately found herself a believer.
It happened one night in Glastonbury, after she was told she had been given a faery advocate. Pike recounts the experience: "I watched a blue pinpoint of light move slowly at first, then zip into the tree above us. There were dozens of them now, delicate dots of light glowing within the dense blackness, one deep blue, another orange like fire, many in bright white light. They began to move, to come alive it seemed, and I let out a small gasp in disbelief. Those were no city lights."
In the end, she comes out of her experiences a changed person.
"You always have a choice as to whether or not to believe," says Pike, acknowledging that most people will be snorting with derision about now. "I knew there'd be people who would read it and not be convinced. That couldn't be my focus, trying to convince people. So I just laid out my journey and people can decide whether or not they believe."
But right now, whether you believe in faeries or not, they are having their moment in pop culture. In True Blood, Sookie Stackhouse has been revealed to be a faery, and Tinkerbell has her own direct-to-video film series and a line of merchandise. For Pike, this might not be a coincidence. It might just be part of the plan the faeries have for her.
"The fact that faeries are coming into public perception all of a sudden," she muses, "they have a way of masterminding these things. I'm not so sure it's accidental."