in which we continue the Gift of Stories with an old fairy tale

Storyteller Margaret Read MacDonald taught me my very first "tellable" story ever, back in 1993.  She travels the world collecting tales and sharing them with audiences.  She's published this one as a book, but I heard her tell it at the Powellswood Storytelling Festival in 2014, and I'm sharing my version of her story here.

With MRM at Powellswood

Too Many Fairies
- a Celtic story told by Margaret Read MacDonald
Once there was an old woman who hated to do the chores.  Every morning she would sweep the floor, make the bed, wash the dishes, and do the knitting.  And every morning she would…complain.

“Work, work, work, how I hate it, hate it, hate it,” she would grumble.

One day, when she started to sweep the floors, she said what she always said:  “Work, work, work, how I hate it, hate it, hate it,” but she was interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Your luck has come!  Come open the door!  Let me in and you’ll work no more!”

She went to the door and she opened it, and in rushed a little fairy person, who grabbed up the broom and began sweeping the floor!

Well!  That was a lucky thing.  If the fairy person was going to sweep the floor, she could get on with making the bed. 

She began shaking the blankets and making the bed, and as she did, she said what she always said:  “Work, work, work, how I hate it, hate it, hate it,” and the knock came at the door again.

“Your luck has come!  Come open the door!  Let me in and you’ll work no more!”

She went to the door and she opened it.  In rushed another little fairy person, who grabbed up the blankets and started making the bed.

Well!  That was a lucky thing.  If the fairy people were going to sweep the floor and make the bed, she could get on with washing the dishes. 

She began to wash the dishes and as she did, she said what she always said, “Work, work, work, how I hate it, hate it, hate it,” and she heard another knocking at the door.

“Your luck has come!  Come open the door!  Let me in and you’ll work no more!”

She went to the door and she opened it.  There was another little fairy person, who ran to the sink and started washing the dishes.

Well!  Wasn’t she fortunate?  If the fairies were going to sweep the floor and make the bed and wash the dishes, she could get on with the knitting of socks.

She began to cast on yard to make a new sock, and as she did she said what she always said, “Work, work, work, how I hate it, hate it, hate it,” and…you guessed it, didn’t you?  Yes. 

There was another knocking at the door.

“Your luck has come!  Come open the door! Let me in and you’ll work no more!”

She opened the door, and the little fairy person outside ran inside and picked up the knitting needles and began to knit socks.

The house was filled with the sound of the broom sweeping and the blankets shaking and the dishes clanking and the knitting needles clicking, and the old woman stood there and did nothing at all.

And then, the chores were all done. 

The old woman took a breath to thank them all, but before she could, a bell sounded, high on the mountain over the place where the fairies live. 

All the fairies in the house looked up at the sound of the bell…and then, they wrecked all the work that they had done!

The sweeping fairy threw the dust and dirt back down all over the floor.  The bed-making fairy messed the blankets up on the bed.  The dish-washing fairy grabbed food and smeared it all over the plates and forks.  And the knitting fairy ripped out all the stitching and tangled the yarn.

In few minutes, the house was completely messed up again!

Then, there was the sound of a bell, high on the mountain.  All the fairies looked up, and started doing the chores all over again.

“Oh, no!” cried the old woman.  “Fairies, stop!”

But the fairies paid no attention to her.  They swept the floor, made the bed, washed the dishes and knitted socks until the bell on the mountain sounded.  Then, they made everything dirty again and started all over.

The old woman cried and shouted and pleaded, but the fairies paid her no mind at all.
Finally, the old woman gathered up her cloak and walked down to the village to ask the wise woman there for advice.

The wise woman listened carefully to old woman’s story.  “Fairies,” she said.  “They are so hard to get rid of!  But…you weren’t complaining, were you?”

The old woman admitted that she might have complained a little bit. 

“Well then, there’s only one thing you can do to get rid of the fairies,” the wise woman said.  And she told the old woman what to do.

When the old woman got home to her house, the fairies were messing everything up worse than ever.

 She opened up the door to the house and stood in the doorway, and shouted as loudly as she could, “Fairies come quick!  Fairies come quick!  The mountain is on fire!  The mountain is on fire!”

The fairies dropped everything inside the house and ran outside to see.

The old woman ran inside the house and locked the door behind her.  Then she turned the broom upside down in the corner.  She tied the blankets into knots.  She turned the dishes upside down in the sink, and she tied knots in the yard and stuck the needles in upside down!

There was a knocking at the door.  “Your luck has come!  Come open the door! Let us come in and you’ll work no more!”

But the old woman did not open the door.  She stayed still and quiet inside the house.

The fairies knocked again.  “Your luck has come!  Come open the door! Let me in and you’ll work no more!” 

And when the old woman didn’t answer, they called out, “Broom, broom!  Come open this door!”
But the broom answered them, “I’m upside down in the corner and cannot move!”

Then they called to the bedclothes, “Blankets, blankets!  Open the door and let us in!”

But the blankets answered, “We’re tied all in knots and cannot help.”

Then they called to the dishes, “Dishes, dishes.  Come open this door at once!”

But the dishes said “We are upside down and cannot.”

Then the fairies called once more, “Knitting needles and yarn! Open up this door!  Let us inside!”
But the yarn and needles said “We are tangled and knotted and we cannot move!”

“Well then,” said the fairies, “we are going away and we’ll come no more.  Your luck is now gone!”

And they went back to the mountain and never returned.

The old woman picked up her broom and began sweeping the floor.  And as she swept, she began to say what she always said, “Work, work, work, how I….” and then she stopped for a moment.

“How I love it, love it, love it.”




If you want to make someone go away, put his sock on a railroad track; and when the train runs over the sock, he will travel the same way the train went.




If somebody leaves and you want to be sure they return, take one of that person's socks that has been worn and not washed, and keep the sock safe under the front step of the house, and the person must return.

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