After recently reading and reviewing Reginald Bakeley’s Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop, I scored a very interesting interview with this man that loathes the fairy kingdom. He believes that fairies are actually pernicious, malevolent, and dangerous. Famed gnome-hunter, fairy-cattle herder, and goblin-banisher, Bakeley shares what he’s learned over years of adventures with these “unnatural” creatures in his book. I thought I’d catch up with him and get some questions answered, in case any of you were as uninformed as I once was about the fey.
Which member of the Fairy Kingdom do you believe to be the most dangerous, the most “malevolent meddler?”
It’s a tricky question, that one, because each sort of fairy has its own way of mucking things up. I’m tempted to point the accusatory finger at the pixie, but they strike only whilst one is trying to enjoy a walk out-of-doors. There’s another, more pernicious sort, who dwells much closer to home. I’m speaking of the common house brownie. He seems innocuous enough, doesn’t he? A little manikin bopping around of an evening filling all the coal scuttles and sewing the buttons back on shirts. But that’s his game, see? The brownie’s a social climber, and that sort of behaviour in a fairy is incredibly dangerous. If allowed to ingratiate himself with you through his wheedling industriousness, the brownie will invariably convince you that he—a little fairy and nothing else—is as good as any human. From there it’s a short journey to the brownie’s assuming an attitude equal if not superior to the householder. Master becomes servant and servant becomes master and the whole world’s gone topsy-turvy. It’s insidious behaviour, and given the relative saturation of the brownie population throughout Britain—and in areas of New England in the Colonies as well, I’ve learned—many, many people need to be aware of it.
Have you ever had your own home inhabited by a brownie?
I must admit that, yes, my ancestral home of Bakeley Hall in Pembrokeshire has been seized by a brownie lodger more than once during my life there. Rural homes seem to attract the blighters more readily than homes in town, and of course the brownies thrive anywhere there is plenty of tea and laundry. Bakeley Hall is such a place, and so I should never be surprised to discover evidence of nocturnal brownie activity. All the same it’s damned disconcerting to get out of bed and put one’s foot squarely into a large bowl of steaming porridge garnished with cream, walnut halves, and pomegranate seeds. If it’s ever happened to you—and I hope it hasn’t—you’ll know what I mean. Brownies will fill one’s entire house with bowls of porridge unless one strikes back immediately.
Did you simply drive him out, or were you able to use his ambitions against him and trick him into midnight housecleaning?
I’m not a man to toy with the Faerie realm. I prefer the direct approach, frontal assault. In the case of beating back a troublesome brownie infestation this usually means going round to the stationers or the Savile Row tailors, for means of brownie-abatement I detail in my book. It’s never an inexpensive operation, but what price can we put on piece of mind?
You know the perils of being involved in the fairy world, but your knowledge has allowed you to dedicate your life to hunting these pernicious creatures. If you could, would you give up your Second Sight and live a “normal” life?
In an instant, yes. I’ve often thought of taking up cheese-rolling.
You write that the changeling egg of a goblin once turned a young girl’s legs backwards. What is the strangest curse you’ve ever encountered?
Ah yes, poor Ettie Ungerslud. We can draw strength in our campaign against the Fairy Kingdom every time we think of her and how she always wears very full skirts these days. Hers is an unfortunate curse, but as for the strangest, I’ve been surprised and dismayed in recent years to find instances of what might be categorized as “half-curses.” Instead of a classic fairy curse that turns a victim into a goose, for example, we see people touched by the fairies who now exhibit mere gooselike behaviour. Offenses which under usual circumstances would have blinded a fairy’s victim now produce a blindness which comes and goes. My research is as of yet inconclusive, but I’m beginning to suspect that these “half-curses” are coming about either because the fairies’ magic is weakening or people are growing a stronger resistance to the fairies’ meddling ways. One might take either of these possibilities as good news, except for the fact that there are no tried-and-true methods for reversing half-curses. It used to be that an angry fairy might whisk away a lover to a desert island, and the grieving partner remaining would have to travel there to rescue him or her. But what’s to be done when only a portion of the lover is transported? It’s most distressing, and the growing number of half-curses I’m seeing can hardly be called progress in our fight against the fey.
I’m working on a book about mermaids, and I noticed that in your youth, you had a tragic love affair with a mysterious woman. Was she a mermaid?
Who? You mean Cordelia? I’d never thought of it that way. Hmm.
In Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop, you enumerate the benefits of flower-fairies in the garden and fairy livestock on the farm. What are some of the other benefits of discovering fairies?
Those two instances are special cases, for the most part. Flower-fairies and fey livestock are inherently useful in their own, limited ways, but broadly speaking the discovery of a fairy is beneficial only in that it gives one an opportunity to squash it, thereby reducing the fey population and lessening the trouble they bring to mankind. There are quite a few edible fairies flitting about, and some are downright scrumptious. I’ve got a weakness for pansy-blossom sprites on toast, for example. As with any sort of foraging, though, it pays to know precisely what you’re looking at. Eat the wrong fairy and anything could happen. I haven’t yet found a field guide thorough enough for using when hunting edible flower-fairies. I’d suggest beginners stick to gnome hunting, as those fellows aren’t as easily mistaken for anything else.
What is the best way for a novice to begin gnome hunting?
As with any straightforward countryside pastime, it’s best to find others who’ve been at it for a while. Follow their lead. If you weren’t raised in a family boasting a long line of gnome hunters, though, it’s easy enough to take it up on one’s own. I present it all in a very clear manner in my “On Gnoming” chapter in Goblinproofing, and I’ve also produced a small pocket guide strictly on the subject, available through Wonderella Printed and a few sympathetic outfitters here and there.
I learned the unsettling facts about trolls from Goblinproofing—their incredible strength and massive appetites and the single comforting detail, their weakness for solving riddles. In case any of us should have the misfortune to run across a troll, do you have any tried-and-true riddles to offer for our protection?
A troll doesn’t stand a chance against a clever riddle. Its faculty for logic inhabits the lowest rung on the biological ladder, cozying up with that of the Mollusca Class Gastropoda, which incidentally is a favored food of trolls. Nearly any riddle will do, but you must deliver it with conviction. Clap your hands once loudly and shout, “What ho, troll! Answer this riddle and I’ll fetch a rowboat full of snails for you to eat!” That will capture his attention. It’s no bother if you haven’t the foggiest notion where to find a rowboat, or snails. You won’t need either, because the troll won’t ever answer your riddle. He’ll either sit there thinking over possible answers until the sun comes up and turns him to stone, or he’ll strain his feeble brain until the pressure explodes it. It’s worth sticking around to watch either eventuality, just for the spectacle of it all, but I don’t recommend keeping your shooting coat once it’s covered in bits of troll. The stains—not to mention the stench—simply will not come out.
What would you recommend for an anti-fairy emergency kit?
It’s funny you should ask that, because I’ve been assembling several such kits for my local rambling chapter. So far I’ve thrown in a flask of whisky, a cat’s eye marble, some doll’s house furniture, an iron nail, an alarm clock, and an O.S. map. Anyone who reads Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop will appreciate the assemblage.
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