03 December 2017

C. S. Lewis, the Little People, and the Wrong Shoe

Every now and then Lewis' Irish gets out, usually in the form of (for me) vexing remarks about 'Papists', but this story was more of a surprise, since it reminded me of my grandmother, also from Ulster (Cavan), though 10 years older than he and a Catholic. I don't remember her ever saying 'the Little People', but I do recall her speaking of fairies, and fairy mounds and lights and dancing. I only wish I remembered more of what she said, or that I had asked her to tell me the stories again when I was older than six or seven. I have no idea whether she believed them at all, but she had me convinced at the time. And she scared me quite a bit with her tales of banshees, which people she knew (so she said) had heard and even almost seen.

In any event, I discovered this story in a letter Lewis wrote to his brother, Warnie on 21 April 1940, decades after either of them had lived in Ireland:
I never told you a curious thing - I have meant to include it in several letters - wh[ich] provides a new instance of the malignity of the Little People. I was going into town one day and had got as far as the gate when I realised that I had odd shoes on, and one of them clean and the other dirty. There was no time to go back. As it was impossible to clean the dirty one, I decided that the only way of making myself look less ridiculous was to dirty the clean one. Now w[oul]d you have believed that this is an impossible operation? You can of course get some mud on it - but it remains obviously a clean shoe that has had an accident and won’t look in the least like a shoe that you have been for a walk in. One discovers new catches and snags in life every day.

As if one could foil the wrath of 'the Little Folk' by the simple expedient of dirtying a clean shoe. 

And just in case you think the fairies aren't still malicious to those who cross them, here's a more recent tale from Cavan, complete with a butcher playing the part of Ted Sandyman. 

I have often wondered how different it must be for those who believe in fairies to read fairy stories or hear them told.