Saturday, June 8, 2019

StorySpotting: I spy with my fairy eye (The Magicians)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

Like any good urban fantasy show about magic, SyFy's The Magicians uses a lot of folklore elements for plot and flavor (and usually subverts them with hilarious results). It was, however, especially fun to spot one that is less well known, but was excellently adapted.

Where was the story spotted?

The Magicians, seasons 3-4 (ongoing plot)

What happens?

In season 2, Margo loses her eye to a fairy queen who is quietly conquering her kingdom. In season 3, however, after doing some favors to the fairies, Margo is rewarded with a replacement for her lost eye - a fairy eye with magical powers that let her see things other people can't. She can see magic, hidden objects, illusions, etc. Her vision becomes useful to the plot a couple of times in season 4.

(She can also pop it out and put it back in. Obviously.)

What's the story?

There is a folktale type commonly known as The Fairy Midwife (ATU 476, officially titled Midwife (or godparent, or nurse) for the Elves). The story features a mortal person, who is out-of-the-blue visited by some supernatural creature who asks for their help. Most often it is a midwife, who is woken up in the middle of the night by some frantic stranger who spirits her away to an unknown location to help with a birth. While in the other world, doing some kind of a service, the mortal accidentally gets some supernatural ointment in her eye. She is either supposed to be rubbing the newborn fairy baby with it, or she is watching the fairies/trolls/elves apply it to themselves - either way, despite dire warnings, she rubs some of the ointment in one of her eyes, and suddenly gains magical sight. She can see the fairy world for what it is - a cold underground cave instead of a palace - or she can see the fairies that have been invisible to her before.
The story usually ends on a dark, but not tragic note: some time later, the mortal spots the fairies doing some mischief in disguise, and calls out to them. They are surprised to be seen, and ask her which eye she can see them with. When she indicates the eye, the fairies simply pluck it out - or blow on it, leaving her half blind.

You can read several variants of this folktale type here, here, or here.


In Margo's case, the story happened the other way around: first the plucking, and then the magic sight. It was a small change, but they have been using her new abilities wisely ever since.

1 comment:

  1. I will remember not to call out if I get a magic eye.