Seven magical words

By Leife Shallcross

Posted on August 31, 2017 in Books with tags Leife Shallcross

I am an inveterate word nerd. I hoard beautiful words like precious gems, dipping into my collection every now and then for inspiration. Here are a few of my favourite fairy-tale-themed words.


Fairy tales are full of jewels. Stolen treasure hidden in the woods; the leaves of bejewelled trees in a magical, underground land; or spangles on a spectacular ball-gown. My soft spot for amethysts comes from one of my all-time favourite childhood books, The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye. Amethyst, or Amy for short, is the delightfully ordinary heroine and the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Sleeping Beauty. If you love fairy tales, you need to read this.


I’m a total sucker for colour words, and hazel conjures up a rich nut-brown flecked with gold and green. It’s also a word with magical overtones – in folklore the hazelnut is associated with wisdom and poetry, and wands are often made out of hazel wood. It’s got good fairy tale cred, too. In the Scottish tale Kate Crackernuts, the heroine collects hazelnuts while riding through a fairy wood and uses them to rescue the handsome prince. In some versions of Beauty and the Beast (in fact, the first one I ever remember reading as a child), Beauty’s father snaps a hazel twig from the Beast’s hedge instead of stealing a rose.


Simultaneously the essence of ethereal beauty and signifying the presence of something more-than-slightly horrifying, this word is the perfect descriptor for the very stuff fairy tales are made from. No wonder Shakespeare named one of his fairies after it.


If cobweb is the substance of fairy tales, stars represent the soul of magic. There is nothing more magical than the night sky strewn with stars. Everything looks different by starlight.


Usually wicked, sometimes benevolent, these creatures are the perfect representation of the ambiguity of Faerie. They are everything that is crooked and creepy, yet still strangely beautiful in their grotesquery. This word makes me think of the work of Brian Froud, one of my favourite artists (the goblins in the movie Labyrinth are his).




What’s a fairy tale without a decent witch? I love this word because it conjures up both the beautiful magic and the dark, dark stuff. And speaking of beautiful magic . . .


This is probably my favourite fairy tale word. It represents everything I’m looking for in a good story. I want to fall under the spell of the storyteller and find myself waking up in a whole new world.

Let me tell you a story . . .



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