The legend of fairies

The legend of fairies

Read a text about the legend of fairies to practise and improve your reading skills.

Do the preparation task first. Then read the text and do the exercises.


Reading text

(1) Fairies today are the stuff of children's stories, little magical people with wings, often shining with light. Typically pretty and female, like Tinkerbell in Peter Pan, they usually use their magic to do small things and are mostly friendly to humans.

(2) We owe many of our modern ideas about fairies to Shakespeare and stories from the 18th and 19th centuries. Although we can see the origins of fairies as far back as the Ancient Greeks, we can see similar creatures in many cultures. The earliest fairy-like creatures can be found in the Greek idea that trees and rivers had spirits called dryads and nymphs. Some people think these creatures were originally the gods of earlier, pagan religions that worshipped nature. They were replaced by the Greek and Roman gods, and then later by the Christian God, and became smaller, less powerful figures as they lost importance.

(3) Another explanation suggests the origin of fairies is a memory of real people, not spirits. So, for example, when tribes with metal weapons invaded land where people only used stone weapons, some of the people escaped and hid in forests and caves. Further support for this idea is that fairies were thought to be afraid of iron and could not touch it. Living outside of society, the hiding people probably stole food and attacked villages. This might explain why fairies were often described as playing tricks on humans. Hundreds of years ago, people actually believed that fairies stole new babies and replaced them with a 'changeling' – a fairy baby – or that they took new mothers and made them feed fairy babies with their milk.

(4) While most people no longer believe in fairies, only a hundred years ago some people were very willing to think they might exist. In 1917, 16-year-old Elsie Wright took two photos of her cousin, nine-year-old Frances Griffiths, sitting with fairies. Some photography experts thought they were fake, while others weren't sure. But Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories, believed they were real. He published the original pictures, and three more the girls took for him, in a magazine called The Strand, in 1920. The girls only admitted the photos were fake years later in 1983, created using pictures of dancers that Elsie copied from a book.

Task 1

Task 2


Worksheet66.79 KB

Language level

Average: 4 (63 votes)
Do you need to improve your English reading skills?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English reading skills with our online courses.

Hello Alec Villa,

The idea is that creatures which are part of legends or fairy tales might be what remains of earlier religions. In other words, once people worshipped nature spirits as gods. New religions (Greek and Roman religions) came to dominate so people stopped worshipping their old gods but did not completely forget them. Instead they became lesser figures in other stories, such as nymphs and dryads. As new religions (in this case, the Christian religion) became dominant, the dryads and nymphs became less important, the stories about them changed and they became faires.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dmytro on Tue, 09/02/2021 - 11:22

I cannot remember any small creature from fairytales in my culture but when it comes to that I think of dwarves. Even though they are usually depicted in a negative light, I find them very nice.

Submitted by Ehsan on Sun, 20/12/2020 - 09:48

Sometimes legends and stories about exotic creatures are heard. Some people, especially in childhood are interested in these topics. I think many of these stories aren't true and they are just built by the human mind. But if we consider the world beyond physics, some of those creatures are real. These creatures include jinns, very small people, etc. There are ways to access them, but it's better to we don't follow them and have a normal living because I think everybody isn't able to control them. On the other hand, the worlds have their own discipline and we shouldn't disrupt this discipline.

Submitted by SMG on Wed, 09/12/2020 - 18:40

I never believed in fairies, in my country those things are not part of popular culture.

Submitted by Eric75016 on Tue, 08/12/2020 - 08:05

Hello, I don’t understand this sentence :” He published the original pictures, and three more the girls took for him, in a magazine...”. What does it mean “and three more the girls” ? Thank you for your help.

Hello Eric75016,

The sentence is possibly confusing because some words are omitted. I'll write it out in full and I think this will help:

He published the original pictures, and three more pictures which the girls took for him, in a magazine...



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Murat on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 18:41

Hello can anyone help me? "fairies were thought to be afraid of iron" i didn't understand. if sentence "fairies were afraid of iron" but "thought to be" why over there? i couldn't understand.

Hello Murat,

Fairies were afraid of iron describes a fact; it tells us something that is true.

Fairies were thought to be afraid of iron describes a belieft; it tells us that people believe that this is true, but it's possible that they are wrong.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ugulhan on Tue, 10/11/2020 - 07:52

I would believe about small fairies because in my childhood I heard every small child will be protected by God. This world was created many years ago, and The great creator was created first Angeles before we.

Submitted by Lilly098 on Mon, 02/11/2020 - 21:20

As majority mentioned here, we do not have any fairy tales in Japan. Instead of that, we have many monster stories. Monsters varies from good ones to bad ones. All the monster stories is believed to be based on real people; today people deliver the stories not only to entertain little kids, but also to remind them of consequences.