December 14, 2021

#08-165: A Rough Guide to the Wee Folk

Fairy - Elf - Dwarves - Gnome

Note: Most cultures have stories about magical little people who interact with humans, sometimes to help and sometimes not. Here are some who are popular in Europe.

Get Ready: Do you feel the "wee folk"--fairies, elves, and such--have personalities that are more positive or negative?

We've talked before about big people--giants; let's now look at "the little people," also called "the wee folk."

Virtually every culture has stories of humanoid figures much smaller than the size of "normal" people. Not surprisingly, these little people often have supernatural abilities.

First off, fairies are common to many European cultures. They may play pranks, but they are seldom malignant. They are often pictured flying through the air, like Tinkerbell in Peter Pan.

Elves, though counted among the "wee folk," may actually be human-sized, as seen in The Lord of the Rings. They're commonly connected to northern European, Germanic, cultures. (Maybe that's why we speak of elves as being at the North Pole!) Though pictured as tiny and sweet-natured in "high literature" like Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, folk stories often attribute to them darker motives.

Dwarfs are also originally Germanic, and are associated with the earth as fairies are with the air. They often live underground, where they work in mines like in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They are usually pictured as short, ugly, and bearded, again as in The Lord of the Rings.

Gnomes live underground, like dwarfs, but seem to be characters from literature rather than folklore, dating only to the 16th century. Some people like to place statues of cute "garden gnomes" in their yards, like the ones in popular films like Gnomeo & Juliet.


Our remaining wee folk come specifically from various parts of the British Isles.

Pixies might be a sort of fairy, but localized to South West England. They often inhabit stone circles and burial mounds and the like; some think they are remnants of the ancient culture that built these sites. Like fairies, they are often mischievous but generally benign.

Leprechauns are associated with Irish folklore. In popular belief, if you can catch a leprechaun, he must take you to the pot of gold he has hidden at the end of the rainbow. Good luck with that.

Brownies are Scottish wee folk, said to come out at night to do chores and farm work for humans.


To be honest, some local traditions may attribute to one creature something I said about another. The rules are not hard and fast; this is just a rough guide!


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. chores
  2. folklore
  3. humanoid
  4. inhabit
  5. malignant
  6. mischievous
  7. mounds
  8. pranks
  9. remnants
  10. virtually

  1. like a person
  2. nearly; basically
  3. evil
  4. piles of earth
  5. live in
  6. tricks; jokes
  7. daily tasks
  8. stories told by common people
  9. playfully bad
  10. things that are left

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 14, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. h; 3. a; 4. e; 5. c; 6. i; 7. d; 8. f; 9. j; 10. b