It's all very well—but you, and I, and most of us who are healthy in mind and blithe of spirit, love to give rein to our fun and fancy, and to mingle fun with our fancy and fancy with our fun.
The little Fairy-people are the favourite children of Fancy, and were born into this serious world ages and ages ago to help brighten it, and make it more graceful and dainty and prettily romantic than it was. They found the Folk-lore people already here—grave, learned people whose learning was all topsy-turvy, for it dealt with toads, and storms, and diseases, and what strange things would happen if you mixed them up together, and how the devil would flee if you did something with a herb, and how the tempest would stop suddenly, as Terence records, if you sprinkled a few drops of vinegar in front of it. No doubt, since then thousands of people have sprinkled tens of thousands of gallons of good vinegar before advancing tempests, and although tempests pay far less attention to the liquid than the troubled waters to a pint of oil, the sprinklers and their descendants have gone on believing with a touching faith. It is pretty, but not practical.
But what is pretty and practical too, is that all of us should sometimes let our fancy roam, and that we should laugh as well, even over a Fairy-story. Yet there are some serious-minded persons, very grave and very clever, who get angry if a smile so much as creeps into a Fairy-tale, and if our wonder should be disturbed by anything so worldly as a laugh. A Fairy-tale, they say, should be like an old Folk-tale, marked by sincerity and simplicity—as if humour cannot be sincere and simple too.
"The true Fairy-story is not comic." Why not? Of this we may be sure—take all the true humourless Fairy-stories and take "Alice"—and "Alice" with its fun and fancy will live beside them as long as English stories are read, loved for its fancy and its fun, and hugged and treasured for its jokes and its laughter. The one objection is this: the "true Fairy-story" appeals to all children, young and old, in all lands, equally, by translation; and jokes and fun are sometimes difficult to translate. But that is on account of the shortcomings of language, and it is hard to make young readers suffer by starving them of fun, because the power of words is less absolute than the power of fancy in its merrier mood.