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Fairy-locks

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Fairy-locks

When young children, especially girls, wake from an evening's slumber with tangles and snarls in their hair, mothers with a tradition of fairy folklore might whisper to their daughters that they had caught fairy locks or elf-locks. Fairies, they say, tangled and knotted the hairs of the sleeping children as they played in and out of their hair at night.[1]

Shakespeare

Shakespeare references such elflocks in Romeo and Juliet in Mercutio's speech of the many exploits of Queen Mab, where he seems to imply the locks are only unlucky if combed out.[2]

"She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone.......
That plaits the manes of horses in the night
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes."

Therefore, the appellation of elf lock or fairy lock could be attributed to any various tangles and knots of unknown origins appearing in the manes of beasts or hair of sleeping children.

It can also refer to tangles of elflocks or fairy-locks in human hair. In King Lear, when Edgar impersonates a madman, "he elfs all his hair in knots."[3](Lear, ii. 3.) What Edgar has done, simply put, is made a mess of his hair.

See also Jane Eyre, Ch. XIX; Jane's description of Rochester disguised as a gypsy: "...elf-locks bristled out from beneath a white band..."

References

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