In a foreshadowing of Tolkien’s impressive elves (and C.S. Lewis’s terms for humans as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve), G.K. Chesterton described fairies as beings that humans look for . . . “in acorns and on toadstools and wonder that you never see them.”
Instead, “if you would see a fairy as he truly is, look for his head above all the stars and his feet amid the floors of the sea.”
Here’s the opening scene to a play by G.K. Chesterton, Magic: A Fantastic Comedy (published 1913).
It begins in a “plantation of thin young trees, in a misty and rainy twilight.” A Stranger appears, “a cloaked figure with a pointed hood.” A woman, named Patricia, appears on stage, singing, then sees the stranger:
PATRICIA. Oh! Who are you?
STRANGER. Ah! Who am I? [Commences to mutter to himself, and maps out the ground with his staff.]
I have a hat, but not to wear;
I wear a sword, but not to slay,
And ever in my bag I bear
A pack of cards, but not to play.
PATRICIA. What are you? What are you saying?
STRANGER. It is the language of the fairies, O daughter of Eve.
PATRICIA. But I never thought fairies were like you. Why, you are taller
than I am.
STRANGER. We are of such stature as we will. But the elves grow small,
not large, when they would mix with mortals.
PATRICIA. You mean they are beings greater than we are.
STRANGER. Daughter of men, if you would see a fairy as he truly is, look
for his head above all the stars and his feet amid the floors of the
sea. Old women have taught you that the fairies are too small to be
seen. But I tell you the fairies are too mighty to be seen. For they are
the elder gods before whom the giants were like pigmies. They are the
Elemental Spirits, and any one of them is larger than the world. And you
look for them in acorns and on toadstools and wonder that you never see
PATRICIA. But you come in the shape and size of a man?
STRANGER. Because I would speak with a woman.