Tag Archives: folk character

The Tooth Fairy

Main piece: Every tooth you got a note from the tooth fairy, who was a woman – a Ms. Tooth Fairy. And she had a wand and a costume. And there was a rate for it. One tooth was $1, molars were $5, and the last tooth was a big deal, like 20 bucks. The fairy is magic. She’s real. She sent me a letter. But, you know, my children loved those notes. One of them kept all of them.

Background:  My informant is a fifty-three year old woman from Los Angeles, California. She is the mother of three children, aged twenty, sixteen, and fourteen. Whenever one of them would lose a tooth, they would receive some money (rates stated above), and a letter from the tooth fairy inquiring after their general well-being, and complimenting how big they’ve grown. To this day, whenever her children ask about the tooth fairy (including her eldest for the purposes of a folklore project), she adamantly says “she” is real. 

Context: The tooth fairy is a common folk character. The Western variation of this folklore states that if a child loses their tooth and leaves it under a pillow, the tooth fairy will come, take the tooth, and bring them money. In the case of my informant’s children, a note would accompany the typical tradition, and my informant continues to tell her children of its existence, even if they are old enough now to no longer believe in her. 

My informant told this story when I brought up Santa Claus as an example of a character rooted in folklore. 

Analysis: The folklore of being given money by the tooth fairy comes from the fear of losing one’s teeth- an otherwise horrific and scary occurrence for any young child to deal with. By rewarding or giving the child a present in exchange for the lost tooth, they are able to take something that would otherwise be seen as strange and scary and make it seem exciting or something to look forward to. The notes as an accompaniment to the money made the experiences of the children of my informant more personal, and having a stock character that wrote to them and comforted them made that experience even easier to handle. Additionally, my informant’s refusal to deny the existence of the tooth fairy to this day has more to do with her perspective than that of the kids’, as having a tooth fairy is part of childhood, and as the children grow up, they no longer need her and stop believing in her. My informant’s insistence of her continued existence in reality is her way of connecting the character with the childhood innocence of her children, even now that they are mostly grown up.  (For another version, see Stuurman, May 18, 2020, “The Tooth Fairy”, USC Folklore Archives)

Eilmer the Flying Monk

Main piece: There’s this, in the Abbey where my Gramps works, there’s a legend of Eilmer the Flying Monk. From what I remember, he is supposedly a monk who in the thirteenth century tried to fly by jumping off the roof of this abbey. And I don’t think he succeeded, but they call him the flying monk nonetheless. 

I definitely think it’s kind of farcical, it’s so British. Apparently he tried really hard… it is kind of referred to around Malmesbury, like there’s pubs named “Flying Monk” and there’s like, on the “Welcome to Malmesbury” sign, they have a sign about it. I think people just find it funny. 

People like to talk about him. He’s a fun kind of figure about the town that people know about. They’re like “this guy jumped off a roof in the 1200s and we’re never going to let him forget it”. You know, Malmesbury’s really small, it’s got a lot of history though, and I think that people just really like the image of a flying monk. Religion has a kind of social function there, but it’s pretty individual in their own take on spirituality and religion, but the center of the town is the abbey. The main street branches right off from that [the abbey]. And it’s kind of what people come to Malmesbury for. It’s a very small-scale tourist operation, people just don’t really come to Malmesbury. But when they do- I mean, the queen has been there – to the Malmesbury Abbey. My gramps met her there, once. 

I don’t think they have commercialized it that much. I mean, they have a 10k called the Flying Monk, there’s a beer, but I was never super aware of it being commercialized when I was there. It was just a story my dad told me. It might not even be Malmesbury companies that make it 

Background: O’s father grew up in Malmesbury, a town in Wiltshire, England. O has been visiting her grandparents (her grandfather is the town’s organist) and aunt, who still live there, once every year or two for a few weeks since as long as she can remember. He was the one who told her the story of Eilmer, and she finds it incredibly funny.

Context: When talking about Malmesbury, O immediately launched into a description of Eilmer the Flying Monk. Her grandfather (referred to as “Gramps” in the transcript) has been an organist at Malmesbury Abbey for decades, and O has spent a lot of time at the abbey with him, either spending time in the garden or in the graveyard of the church. 

Analysis: Malmesbury Abbey has a population of a little over five thousand, and much of its history occurred in the pre-Enlightenment era. As O said, the abbey is the center of a lot of the social life in Malmesbury, so it makes sense that their unofficial mascot would both connect to the historic events of the town, as well as the Church, even if it is in a fun, subversive way. Eilmer of Malmesbury was a real monk who in 1010 made an unsuccessful flying attempt using a primitive hang glider. It is believed that he broke both legs in the attempt (this was documented by historical William of Malmesbury). Although this is not widely known outside of Malmesbury or seen as a tourist attraction, the symbol of Eilmer of Malmesbury is seen as both a joke and a proud symbol of the Malmesbury people, an example Michael Herzfeld’s “cultural intimacy”, which is described as “the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered as a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with the assurance of common sociality” (Ginnging, 2)

Gingging, Flory Ann Mansor. “‘I Lost My Head in Borneo’: Tourism and the Refashioning of the Headhunting Narrative in Sabah, Malaysia.” Cultural Analysis 6 (2007): 1–29. 

“Eilmer the Flying Monk,” February 27, 2020. https://www.athelstanmuseum.org.uk/malmesbury-history/people/eilmer-the-flying-monk/. 

The Purple Pants Man

From interview with informant:

“Um, something called the purple pants man, which is a man who wears purple spandex. We don’t know his age. He could be immortal, he could be eighty, he could be forty. He’s old-ish. And he wears spandex pants. He always has a sharpie in his mouth. He can’t see very well so he has like big-ass glasses. He’s basically like a really old punk/goth, uh, think of somebody from a club in like, Blade Runner. He’s always like in the public library walking around. I don’t know if he has a job. I think he’s a drug dealer. I’m not exactly sure. We don’t know what he is.”

“So basically if you spot him, you have to inform everybody else that you made a sighting. Eventually there was a Facebook group called ‘I’ve Seen the Purple Pants Man.’ There was like a secret photo someone took of him in the library on a computer, like sharpie in his mouth. He has like, I don’t even know, there’s so many weird things about this dude. He has like a cart he moves around sometimes. He has like an old, beat-up car. His mental faculties probably aren’t all there. And, um, what else? I think he tried to sell somebody drugs sometime? I’m not sure exactly. But he’s like, he’s just a character we see all the time. And we’re like ‘Oh, it’s him.’ Nobody knows who it is, nobody talks to him.”

An entertaining bit of folklore with enough detail and flavor to convince me, at least, that the purple pants man exists. I especially like the creation of the Facebook group to spread word of the Purple Pants Man’s activities, keeping him firmly in the minds of the community.