STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
The writer Lesley M.M. Blume wants to guide you through an imaginary world. According to her, that world is right in front of your eyes. She's written a kind of field guide to what she calls "Modern Fairies, Dwarfs, Goblins, and Other Nasties." We find out, in this book, that every fairy breed has its own currency. For example, some use coffee beans as money, while trolls use another kind of object for that same purpose.
M: Trolls use animal bones. The bigger the animal, the more the bone is worth. And they especially prize femurs. You should be warned that trolls value the bones of children, above all.
INSKEEP: Right there we learned that this children's book is not as sweet as some books about fairies might be. Lesley Blume is in our New York studios. Welcome to the program.
M: Thank you so much for having me.
INSKEEP: So we have some rather dark themes here, and suggestions that the fairies and other creatures you create are not very nice.
M: Well, let's not forget that, traditionally, children's fairy tales have not been very nice. And this book, while it is modern, it also returns to those dark roots. When you see the original "Little Mermaid," it most certainly did not feature singing and dancing crabs and shellfish. I mean rather, the mermaid, herself, suffered immensely when her tail split into two legs and every step she took she felt like she was walking on broken glass.
INSKEEP: What got you thinking that you wanted to write a book and populate a world with fairies and other creatures and put them in - not some enchanted forest somewhere - but in New York City?
M: Well, it's been - I mean honestly, it's been kind of a lifelong obsession for me. And you know, when I was a little girl, I wasn't growing up in, you know, bucolic countryside of yore, I grew up in the suburbs. And I had a collection of short stories about fairies, and they contained all kinds of old fashioned spells and that kind of thing that would allow you to see fairies; and I couldn't find any of the things that these spells called for. I didn't have hemlock bushes in my back yard.
INSKEEP: That's why the spells never worked for you, I suppose.
M: No, they didn't. I never got to see a fairy. Once I thought I got close and I almost died - and it was just a hose moving through some patch of pachysandra. But what do kids in modern environments do to engage with fairy life? My book tells you how to connect with that world using objects founds in every household or supermarket today.
INSKEEP: Such as?
M: So, for instance, you no longer have to leave unicorn hair and other now-arcane objects on the hearth to invite fairies to visit. Gummy bears and animal crackers on the front porch will do just fine.
INSKEEP: I'm sorry, if bits of food left lying around the house would attract fairies, my house would have been filled with fairies long ago.
M: Well, you know, they also love animals, and the mice that the food attracts will lure fairy life in.
INSKEEP: You've got this story. The Lincoln Tunnel goes from Manhattan over to New Jersey, and anybody who's been through a big tunnel like that may have noticed you look off to the side and suddenly there'll be a door in this tunnel underneath a river someplace.
M: Yeah, who lives in this beastly real estate? This is how bad the real estate has got in New York City.
INSKEEP: And your story seeks to answer that question.
M: It most certainly does. And as a child, going back and forth between New York and New Jersey, I would look at these doors and my mother would say, oh look, a little man just ran out of that door. And of course I would say, oh yes, I just saw it, I just saw it. And that always stayed me. And, you know, now being an adult resident of Manhattan going through those tunnels, I always had remembered the total excitement and just wondering what happened behind those doors and what on God's earth they were doing there. And we came up with this world behind these doors are not nuts and bolts, or, you know, workers munching on sandwiches. There was a fantastical dwarf forest and they are harvesting apple-sized rubies.
INSKEEP: There are a number of stories in this book about fairies and goblins and so forth, in which you - there's a definite sense of injustice. I think of a story in which a girl is the least attractive of the various sisters. All of her sisters are prettier than her. She's by far the best person and the nicest person, but is not attractive, and nothing good is going to come of this. She's not going to turn into a princess and slip into a slipper. I mean nothing good is going to happen here.
M: I think that's actually my favorite story in the book. It's called "A Face Made From Flowers," and she's not pretty. Her sisters are pretty - they don't let her forget it. And all she wants is to be made beautiful. And she encounters a curious breed of fairies who live in a fairy ring in her back yard, called flower fairies. And she asks them to make her beautiful, as if that will solve all of her problems. And I think you'll be quite surprised by the results of that request. And I think, you know, it's important to realize that not every problem in life has a neat solution; and even if it did, that solution wouldn't necessarily bring the results that you wanted.
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INSKEEP: That's Lesley M.M. Blume. The book is called "Modern Fairies, Dwarfs, Goblins, and other Nasties." And you can see illustrations by David Foote and learn about fairies who've made their home in New York City's El Algonquin Hotel by going to npr.org.
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