Fairies are supernatural creatures, which can be found in various legends and myths from around the world. Often portrayed as humanlike beings with special abilities and outlandish features like wings, the ability to fly (wings or no wings) or do magic, these spirits come in a wide range of appearances and sizes, varying between diminutive and frail to larger (i.e. as large as us) and quite powerful. A common feature, regardless of alignment or build, is their ability to glow.
Their approach as friendly or dangerous also varies, but more often than not they are of a prank-inclined and impulsive nature, as well as a bit aloof, flimsy, clever and, last but not least, very beautiful.
In popular, contemporary literature, such as in Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell or Charlaine Harris Southern Vampire series, the Faeries range from highly mystical beings with manners and customs nearly incomprehensible (to us), to more down-to-earth (if still eccentric) creatures blessed with unearthly beauty and powers.
The word Faerie has its roots in the Latin word Fae, but it was used in French before it was brought into English. It has today nearly the same meaning as Fey, a word which also comes from Fae, but there is a slight difference: while Fae refers to a otherworldly race of choice (such as elves), Faerie and Fairy is often used to describe a phenomenon which somehow is typical for or caused by these beings (such as in “it had a strange, fairy glow around it” or “he had a fairy look to him.”).
Fairies can be found in many works of literature, both historical and modern. Perhaps the most famous of all fairies is Puck, the unforgettable character who in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays havoc with the poor humans which have attracted the attention of Oberon, the Fairy King.
More current books in which fairies can be found are, for example, the aforementioned Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke, the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer and some of the works by Neil Gaiman (such as the Sandman and The Books of Magic series).