Pixies and Fairies – What’s the Diff?


 Detail from painting by Edwin Austin Abbey

Pinning definitions on supposedly mythical creatures is like holding sand in your hands. Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series has a major character who is a Pixie with 54 children. I am currently reading A Fistful of Charms (number 3 in the series), which holds a major development for this normally 4-inch tall character. Her PIxies are funny, saying things like “Tinks Diaphragm!” (translation: Oh, come on you can’t be serious) or, “Yeah, and Tink’s a Disney Whore!” (translation: Tell me something I didn’t know you lummox!). This is not my master’s thesis so I am not going to go into serious and heavy duty detail on origins, or every possible permutation of what’s what, nor discuss the many other potential magical fae like sprites, nymphs, leprechauns, &c.

    Pixies or Fairies? 

Ms. Harrison does an great job sticking to what I have read or heard before. Despite Disney’s take, where she seems to be a super-sexualized hybrid of Pixie and Fairy, I think Tinkerbelle is a Pixie. In Laurel Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry series Fairies are very often not very nice at all, their only good quality is that they do not lie and once married adultery is verboten but marriage usually only occurs after the female becomes pregnant. These books are both hot and hard to put down. As far as morality goes, pixies are closer to human than faeries, perhaps a function of mortality.

Both of Karen Marie Moning’s series, Highlander and the Fever series discuss Faeries as being of alien origin. They are separate from humans, in another realm or dimension. There is a Seelie (light, good, beautiful) and an Unseelie (dark, evil or at least not good, ugly (sometimes)) side. In Ms. Moning’s books there’s a contract between the Fae and humanity that keeps us separate Unseelies are nasty, soul sucking and evil, but one cannot say the Seelie are sweet and good. They are mostly concerned with seeking pleasure and are apparently so darn-good in bed that people will have sex with them until they die or escape. Ms. Moning calls them “Death-By-Sex-Fae,” but whatever they are called her books are hard to put down, whether there is lots of shagging or not (the Highlander series is more erotic than the Fever series although that seems to be changing with the last book).

“Officially,” Faeries are immortal, or very long-lived; where Pixies have a lifespan of about twenty years, have many children and a very high infant mortality, and they are very susceptible to the cold. Faeries are sometimes the size of humans but are sometimes small, but Pixies are about four-inches high. Faeries don’t always have wings but Pixies do.

I have yet to see evidence of a Pixie political or social structure. In this it would seem they are more like squirrels, or hummingbirds. They are territorial “gardeners” who tend and eat from a plot they tend. They eat pollen and nectar and bugs. I would be thrilled if they existed in fact and would eat the Japanese beetles that attack my roses each year or did the whole picking and squishing thing. While mischievous they are benign, and as long as they request permission to trespass territory, will assist each other. In Ms. Harrison’s books Pixies are the enemy of faeries as they compete for the garden. But while a pixie tends and lives off of a garden, Faeries just consume it and have a malicious intent.

She also brings the Elves back, but very secretively. They have pointy ears, but I don’t believe pixies do. And in Ms. Hamilton’s world, Faeries do not have the ear thing either.

As I said earlier, it’s really hard to pin down a definition of mythical creatures; however the definition of Pixies as short-lived is pretty standard while Faeries are immortals or very long lived. In most things I have read pixies are usually benevolent where faeries are at best self involved and can be soul-eating, world-destroying baddies. (note: after Writing this I came upon a paragraph about Pixies in Fistful of Charms where they ganged up to kill a hummingbird which had invaded their territory. Maybe it was self-defense?)

It all goes with the variables in the literature, life span, diet, sleep habits, magical abilities, good versus evil, etc.

I would love to know what others have read or learned about these two species. If you have a garden pixie send him or her my way I will provide lots of flowers and pollen (I can spare the darn pollen – achoo!).

Please comment, or email me at my new email address steph@fangswandsandfairydust.com. Oh, please share me with your friends; I would truly appreciate the help.