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At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Nymphs, and Other Troublesome Things
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At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Nymphs, and Other Troublesome Things

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  290 ratings  ·  39 reviews
At the Bottom of the Garden is a history of fairies from the ancient world to the present. Steeped in folklore and fantasy, it is a rich and diverse account of the part that fairies and fairy stories have played in culture and society.

The pretty pastel world of gauzy-winged things who grant wishes and make dreams come true--as brought to you by Disney's fairies flitting ac
Hardcover, 356 pages
Published December 7th 2000 by New York University Press
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  290 ratings  ·  39 reviews

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Start your review of At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Nymphs, and Other Troublesome Things
Purportedly a history of fairy tales, this book serves neither as a history nor a particularly good resource about legends. I had to give up on this after this passage,
"In later stories, Peter [Pan:] is joined by boys who have fallen out of their perambulators, their suspiciously womblike perambulators (is this a mere bowlderization of miscarriage--miscarriage--or stillbirth?)."

What. WHAT? I started skimming after that. It's not a very well organized book, and Purkiss's logic is all over the pla
Madly Jane
My favorite book on fairies. Not for those who want to see happy cuty little beings! A re-read for notes. Love this book.

What are fairies really, but the dead, the ancestor, the nameless thing we all fear in the dark. The Other.

I absolutely adore this book. It changed my life. That's a great book.
Mar 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
(this is snipped from the comment I sent to the author Tad Williams about this book on Facebook - I had asked if he'd read it, he said he did not. I asked if he wanted to know what I thought about it and he said sure; here is what follows)

I'm first going to say that I am glad I held my reserve. Unfortunately while a lot of what she aims for is some really good and new thinking, she doesn't go as deep into the evidence for her theories as I'd like. She is a lazy scholar and will ramble on about
I have to admit I only got half way through this. I found it very disappointing. It felt like as a history it was all over the place. She seemed to have no real structure or thesis behind her arguments, what she was choosing as her sources seemed odd and in the end gave a very odd and distorted view. There was totally no sense of change over time in this book, rather she seemed to be doing almost the opposite, looking for things that were the same and saying becuase they were the same they must ...more
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Having spent several years of my life entrenched in academia, I feel a great joy when I find an intelligent, in-depth book that is beautifully readable. This book is so easy to read that a non-specialist can not only understand it, but be interested in it. It was a pleasure to read and I look forward to re-reading it.
Jan 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I just wanted to post a small correction to the book. The model for Tinkerbell was not Marilyn Monroe but Margaret Kelly. Though Diane Purkiss isn't wrong about Tinkerbell being based on a sex symbol. Miss Kelly had been voted Best Legs In Hollywood at the time she modeled for Tink and voiced one of the mermaids.
Lindsay ⭐ [TrulyBooked]
It started out so well, but started to drag later on in the book.
Mar 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The perception exists with some who attend my storytelling workshops that fairies are always tiny, female and mostly nice. I doubt that many storytellers would hold to this view. We have all heard and sometimes tell stories of baby stealing and other nasty activities of the fairy folk.

Diane Purkiss goes further with her study of fairy lore and literature. She sees the roots of fairies in some of the horrific characters of Greek and Roman myths. They didn’t call them fairies in those days but Pur
Aug 28, 2009 rated it did not like it
Despite publicity material that describes it as "a rich and diverse account of the part that fairies and fairy stories have played in culture and society and the Introduction by the author that gave the impression that she quite enjoys fairies, fairy stories and folklore, throughout the book there is no real sense of Purkiss'connection with her subject matter.

She stretches the boundaries of what constitutes a fairy to include all kinds of beings from ancient mythology and yet is also reductioni
Jan 11, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Snarky people
Recommended to Happydog by: self
It starts out well but after a while her insistence on applying Freudian and feminist literary criticism even where it doesn't seem appropriate is tiresome. She can be witty, but halfway through the book her wit begins to sound bitter and snarky. And strange as it may seem to say, the book seems mean.

Originally I ended this with "I may not finish it," but that turned into "I didn't finish it." The amount of Freudian literary criticism mounted to an intolerable level, and as the book progressed
I approached this with enthusiasm, but Purkiss is so damning of her topic that it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

The book deals with different periods of history, but skirts around and glosses over subjects at whim, often not really providing the back story to the individuals or examples she discusses and the result is an unsatisfying read. Purkiss seems to be so busy sneering and being cynical at just about everything it clouded my judgement on her prose completely.

The book is executed in a ra
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've read quite a bit of this in Katharine Brigg's books, but enjoyed revisiting the Fair Folks in this one, too. Folks who want to learn more about the Gentry need to read this! So many different creatures, so interesting to learn about them!
Martin Shone
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Fairy or Fairy history. The Victorian and Edwardian chapters held my attentions the most, whereas I got bogged down a bit with the Shakespearean period as it was a tad heavy for me but then I'm not a scholar or intellectual enough to read it with ease but saying that, I took my time and came through it knowing the book would be incomplete without it. The chapters on the ancient and medieval history were v ...more
Purkiss' book is a very good and easily accessible look at how society views fairies and other little folk. She starts, mostly, in the Middle Ages and works her way up to the present day, including a quick look at how fan fiction uses fairy folk. She also mixes in history, dealing with Scottish witch trials among other historical events.
Feb 11, 2016 rated it liked it
I agree with other reviewers that this is all over the place and feels disorganized. I also agree that the introduction is the most interesting part. I was surprised at the lack of evidence for most of her assertions in a scholarly book--they seem more speculations presented as fact. So many Interesting parts and ideas, but ultimately I felt unconvinced.
Katarina Dass
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
I'd hardly call this a work of research but I must admit there were some interesting connections made particularly in reference to Lilith and feminism or witches and hallucinogenic drugs on broom stick handles.
3.5 stars. A very enjoyable exploration of fairy world and how our beliefs have evolved over time.
May 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
Well while the book was well written up to a point, it didn't really feature Hobgoblins, Nymphs or other Troublesome things to any extent. Nor really did the fairies. I also did not think her comments about Oscar Wilde were at all necessary either.
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A volume I picked up on whim whilst grazing through the local used bookshops, this was the first scholarly work on folklore I ever read. Purkiss's research into fairy lore, running the gamut from its ancient origins through Early Modern treatises and witch trial depositions to contemporary incarnations, is delivered with a loving skepticism and trademark snark--an approach I found instantly charming.

Though Purkiss's frequent reiteration that "fairies are the dead" could, I suppose, grow tiresome
She's straightforwardly right about Peter Pan IMO. I appreciate that.
Not sure I buy her theory about the origin of Celtic fairies (in Mesopotamia, Greece etc.) It reminds me of the argument I learned from fundamentalists, that all flood myths around the world must all stem from the Great Flood.
Uneven but worthwhile if you're at all interested in folklore. Also suggested for any fantasy/genre fan as a solid grounding in mythos helps in appreciating and understanding complex material.
Claire S
Sep 16, 2009 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Claire by: GR Reviews.
Sounds potentially fascinating. Especially if it has any Gaelic.
Dec 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really great research and interesting insights... the random personal opinion style comments that popped up every so often were strange and distracting though.
Kate Carpenter
A little slow at times, but full of interesting information and good for research.
Solidly written. Very opinionated, and the prose does not flow freely at times.
Mar 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, adult
I didn't appreciate all the digs at Disney movies, but aside from that, this was pretty good. Kind of dry at times, but it was a good overview of things.
Apr 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
I found this book fascinating. Read this a few years ago, and I would like to read it again!!
Katie T
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
The subject is really interesting but i found the author’s style confusing. I would read another book in the same field but i would not read this again.
Juli Anna
Nov 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
This is a dense book, and it was unfortunately not the game-changer I had hoped for. While Purkiss does make a few unique observations about fairy lore, and enjoyed her in-depth exploration of fae creatures as dead creatures, there is plenty here to take issue with. The most glaring thing for me was that she occasionally touched on how race/ethnicity/colonialism influenced people's fairy beliefs, but never analyzed in any real way the effects or cultural implications. These observations were mad ...more
May 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: folklore
A lyrical narrative, spoken as told by firelight, the mysteries of the Other People in the early portion. The author deftly follows the trails in ancient Greece, to Pagan, and Christian thought meeting during the Medieval period for manifestations of those liminal beings that can both gift, and curse.
The author tackles the amorphous realms with scholastic, yet comfortable ease to bring the average reader along the ride of history, and folklore. She confronts the urge to classify them all as bar
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: folklore, fae
An ambitious volume that seeks to trace the history of fairies in folklore and popular culture from the ancient world to the turn of the Millennium, which of course is the subject of libraries of books. While Purkiss by necessity treats portions of her subject briefly—with increasing brevity as the centuries roll onward—she does so with clarity and manages to pack a great amount of analysis into a relatively small space. There are ideas here that I hadn’t considered in my years of interest in fa ...more
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Purkiss also writes children's books with her son, Michael Dowling, under the pseudonym Tobias Druitt.

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