From what I’ve seen, every culture has folklore involving fairies or other spirits, and they make great inspiration for all genres. Although serious usage may require more research than a St. Patrick’s Day writing prompt. Whether you need fresh ideas for types of magic (worldbuilding), ways to frighten people, or even human behavior, fairy stories have a lot to offer – as many writers have found before us.
While we no longer think of them that way, the idea of elves and dwarves commonly used in the fantasy genre are rooted in much older superstitions about faeries. And going back to take a look at the concepts of those creatures (especially ones that predate modern fiction) can help give you a fresh look at the genre’s tropes. I especially like looking at older books about beliefs of the time because the perspective is very different from what you hear now – well, that, and a good number are free on Project Gutenberg.
For example: The Fairy Mythology by Thomas Keightley and Witchcraft and Superstitious Record in the Western District of Scotland by Mawell Wood, M.B. Those books focus on celtic faeries and superstitions, but if you search “superstitions,” you’ll see a plethora of options from a variety of cultures. You probably know some of them already (like the myths from Ancient Greece), but there are plenty more to discover. Some are dark and terrifyingly powerful. Others are surprisingly vulnerable and fragile. And since stories of these creatures were originally told orally, there’s often varying accounts of what each creature can do, likes, hates, etc.
Which leads me to my favorite part of using fairy mythology as inspiration: there is simply so much fodder that 5 authors could use the same faeries as inspiration and get 5 very different worlds, characters, and stories out of it. Make that 5,000 authors (and I’m not even sure that’s hyperbole). Seriously, though, if you take the old ideas and make them your own, there is unlimited potential for exciting new stories.
Every try it? Which fairies or spirits inspire you?