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The Fairyland of Science

Author Rita Smith
Air Date 10/17/2005

The Fairyland of Science Transcript

The Fairy-Land of Science, written by Arabella B. Buckley in 1878, uses the familiarity and allure of fairy tales to awaken in children both a love of nature and a love of science. It is a fact filled, sophisticated science book, but throughout she draws parallels between fairy land and the world of science and between fairies themselves and the forces, many of them invisible like fairies, of nature. What is the charm of fairy-land?, she asks. Is it not that things happen so suddenly, so mysteriously, and without man having anything to do with it? Now exactly all this which is true of fairies is also true of science. There are forces all around us that are ten thousand times more wonderful, more magical, and more beautiful in their work than those of the old fairy tales (5-6).

Let us first see what kind of tales science has to tell and how they are equal to the old fairy tales. Who does not remember the tale of “Sleeping Beauty” and how under the spell of the angry fairy the maiden pricked herself with the spindle and slept a hundred years? How the horses in the stall, the dogs in the court-yard, the cook in the kitchen, the king and queen all remained spell-bound while a thick hedge grew up all round the castle and all within was still as death. But when the hundred years had passed, the prince arrived; the thorny hedge opened before him. He went into the room where the princess lay, and with one sweet kiss raised her and all around her to life again. Can science, Buckley wonders, bring any tale to match this? In answer, she describes water; how busy it can be as it rushes along in the swift brook or dashes over the stones, or sprouts up in the fountain or trickles down from the roof, or shakes itself into ripples on the surface of the pond as the wind blows over it. But have you never seen, she asks, this water spell-bound and motionless? Look out of the window some cold frosty morning in winter, at the little brook which yesterday was flowing gently past the house, and see how still it lies…Notice the wind-ripples on the pond; they have become fixed and motionless. Look up at the roof of the house. There we have running water caught in the very act of falling and turned into transparent icicles. All this water, she points out, was yesterday flowing busily, or falling drop by drop and now it is all caught and spell-bound. But wait, the deliverer is coming. In a few weeks or days, or maybe in a few hours, the brave sun will shine down; the dull-grey leaden sky will melt before him, as the hedge gave way before the prince in the fairy tale, and when the sunbeam gently kisses the frozen water it will be set free….Is this not a fairy tale of nature, and such as these it is which science tells. (2-4)

Buckley, Arabella B. The Fairy-Land of Science. London: Edward Stanford, 1878.

Posted in Literature