Belief is a question that crossed my mind a while back. The author Terry Pratchett (Sir Pterry to many) had some views on belief: gods and other things like anthropomorphic personifications, existed simply because people believed in them: if people stopped believing, life would continue as normal but without the magic. In Terry Pratchetts’ book “Hogfather”, the character Death observes that, without belief, the Sun would not rise. Instead, a mere ball of flaming gas would illuminate the world. The event would be one of simple fact, not one with its magic.
All this goes back to my youngest child losing his milk teeth. Almost everyone will be familiar of the custom of a child having a milk tooth fall out and under their pillow in the hope for a sixpence (or post decimalisation and post inflation equivalent) to magically appear overnight. My son’s older siblings had enjoyed these dental fruits but, having recently read that same book, Hogfather, I had the inspiration to dress things up a bit. The book implies a slightly more aggressive persona than a traditional fairy – all tooth fairies allegedly carrying a pair of pliers, in case they don’t have the right change and have to remove an extra tooth.
This was the starting point for Fat Mick and Bert, my very own itinerant tooth fairies. Whilst not going to the extreme of extracting teeth to the value, they did indulge in notes to “Toofy” – the child in question, in which they would talk about the goings on in fairyland and direct banter at each other. To dress things up even more, the little notes had to appear genuinely from Fairyland. A simple solution was to do them in mirror writing.
It was astoundingly successful. My lad would wake up in the morning and discover the coin and the little note from Fat Mick and Bert. The first time it happened, he was mightily puzzled by the “incomprehensible” note, until we showed him how to read it using a mirror. He was delighted and was perfectly set up for next time. Each tooth that came out was rewarded by a coin and a note from his special fairies. It wasn’t just teeth either – sometimes a major life event would result in Fat Mick and Bert sending a little note of encouragement.
Time went on and, eventually, my son twigged what was going on. Not wishing to kill an obvious cash cow though, he persisted with “suitable responses”. The trouble was, his own innate sense of fun would get the better of him. One morning he appeared, clutching a note but completely unable speak. He just stood there giggling whilst we – his mum and dad – transparently feigned complete ignorance.
I now have the great satisfaction of watching my son – and his older brother and sister – carrying on the tradition of our own very special tooth fairies with our grandchildren. Fat Mick and Bert are still sending money and still writing their notes, which still magically turn into mirror writing on their way back from Fairyland.
So where does this all leave belief? My youngest grandson was spending a couple of days with us, with his mum and dad. No teeth were involved but events conspired to make a note from Fat Mick and Bert seem a good idea. He “Discovered” the note, which had somehow magically appeared inside a brand new mini-pack of breakfast cereal (courtesy of a sharp knife and a little Pritt Stick).
I watched in great amusement later that morning, as he attempted to write a reply to Fat Mick and Bert, trying really, really hard to get his head round mirror writing. I realised that, for him, Fat Mick and Bert had truly come to life, because he believed. The magic was there. It was alive and well.
So yes, I believe ardently in fairies and for a very good reason: I know very well that they exist. And I can prove it. For those into statistics, it’s a 100% certainty.
By John Kirkwood