The Secret of the Cottingley Fairies

There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!
It’s not so very, very far away;
You pass the gardner’s shed
and you just keep straight ahead –
I do so hope they’ve really come to stay.

Rose Fyleman (1877-1957)

This whimsical poem played in my mind as I read The Cottingley Secret, a novelization of the sensational true-life Cottingley Fairies mystery of a century ago.

It’s the summer of 1917 in Yorkshire, England. With a borrowed camera, two young girls, bored and fanciful, head into the woods beyond their garden and manage to record a troupe of tiny, ethereal fairies cavorting by a stream.

The striking photographs eventually come to the attention of none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, master of detective fiction and avid champion of Spiritualism and the paranormal. He’s eager to believe in the authenticity of the girls’ photographs, in part because he hopes to use them in a book he’s been commissioned to write. He gives the girls more equipment and urges them to go back to the woods to capture more images of the Wee Folk.

The published photos are widely circulated, capturing the public’s imagination. After the horrors of a devastating war, people are more than ready to believe in something magical, something hopeful and uplifting. The Cottingley Fairies phenomenon sparks intense fairy fever, taking the world by storm; the photographs and the girls who took them remain famous (and notorious) to this day.  

Were the controversial photos real or a hoax? I think I know the truth … because, after all, here is tangible evidence that there are fairies at the bottom of my garden!

The Cottingley Secret • Hazel Gaynor (2017, HarperCollins)

Curiosity Quotient:  ♦♦♦♦♦