Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Case of the Cottingley Fairies by Joe Cooper

In England, 1917 in the quiet little Yorkshire village of Cottingley, two young girls, Frances Griffiths aged 10 and her cousin Elsie Wright aged 17, took a series of five photographs that remain the subject of controversy to this day. The photographs showed the girls posed with fairies that they swore were real. To many eyes, the alleged fairies look like homemade paper dolls, drawn, coloured, cut out and secured in place, perhaps with hatpins, sticks, or string, but they garnered such distinguished supporters as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, devout spiritualist and famed creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Edward Gardner, a leader in the then popular Theosophist movement founded by Madame Blavatsky. Both Conan Doyle and Gardner were utterly convinced of the photographs' authenticity and penned books in their defense. After the pictures were published in the Strand Magazine in 1920, they became the subject of intense public scrutiny and debate that continued for decades.

Researcher Joe Cooper had the opportunity to spend time with, question, and interview both Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright as elderly women during the last years of their lives. And though he seems somewhat predisposed to believe them, and admits to having a personal belief in fairies and nature spirits, his book does a good and thorough job of documenting the history, mystery, and controversy of the Cottingley Fairies episode from start to finish, and it makes an interesting read for anyone with an interest in spiritualism, fairy lore, spirit photography, or the Cottingley Fairies in particular. Apart from the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edward Gardner, this is the only book-length account of the case I have read, though it is frequently featured in books about unexplained and paranormal or supernatural phenomena.

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