Tinker Bell is a fairy. She is a tiny, butterfly-winged fictional creature created by J. M. Barrie for his 1904 play “Peter Pan.” She was a common fairy – one who mended metal pots and pans. That is the job of tinkers, hence her name.
In those early days, Tinker Bell did not speak. Nor did we actually see her. She was merely a darting flash of light. Her sound was that of tinkling bells.
But in 1953, Tinker Bell took a step toward stardom and visibility when the Walt Disney Co. produced the animated version of “Peter Pan.” Tinker Bell was in the film but did not speak. No matter, Disney animator Marc Davis had created a blonde, blue-eyed, butterfly-winged fairy that captured the imagination of the public.
Disney called Tinker Bell a pixie. The popularity of this pixie and her dust has become the unofficial mascot for many Disney enterprises. No Disney film, magic castle nor Disney store would be quite the same without Tinker Bell and a sprinkling of pixie dust to get us humans to think happy thoughts.
But wait. Is Tinker Bell a fairy or a pixie? And why is she a female with butterfly wings? It is not possible to say for sure. But there is a long history of humans creating similar creatures. The inspiration for this seems to have originated with the gods of ancient Greece and Rome.
One such god is the god of love, called Cupid by the Romans and Eros by the Greeks. History holds that Cupid accidentally fell in love with a beautiful mortal girl named Psyche. Psyche is the Greek name for a butterfly. The Greek philosopher Aristotle also used the word psyche to describe the life force in living things. Today, Aristotle’s life force is often called the soul.
Aristotle used the metamorphosis of the butterfly to illustrate his concept of life force. During metamorphosis a caterpillar appears to die when it becomes a pupa. The apparent lack of life is misleading because, in reality, the insect is undergoing a total makeover in form. When the change in form is complete, the insect emerges as a butterfly.
Even in modern times this miracle of metamorphosis is sometimes overlooked or not understood. Three or four times a year I hear from a parent of a child who had carefully fed a pet caterpillar. After the caterpillar became a pupa and the pupa stopped moving, the family incorrectly concluded that the insect was dead. The family wondered what they had done wrong. Chances are the insect was not dead but just completing development!
Because of the historical use of the word psyche for butterfly, ancient mosaics often depict Psyche with butterfly wings. Cupid, on the other hand, is most often depicted with bird wings. In a few instances, Cupid is adorned with butterfly wings. In some renderings neither Cupid nor Psyche are depicted with wings.
Ultimately, some of the mythology associated with Greek and Roman gods survived through the European concept of spirits, fairies, pixies, gnomes and goblins. For the most part, such creatures are depicted as humanlike, small in size and often adorned with wings.
These “little people” have been assumed to be pranksters and, at times, evildoers. Such was the case with the original Tinker Bell, who has been described as ill-tempered, spoiled, impolite and jealous. She was adept at insulting people, even by using bell notes in place of a voice.
However, in the hands of Disney animator Davis, all of that changed. Tinker Bell became a beautiful female pixie and a symbol of the magic of Disney. Tinker Bell, some critics claim, is too sexually suggestive. But then, the Greek goddess Psyche, the inspiration for Tinker Bell, was the beautiful woman who married Cupid! Besides what’s not to like about a goddess or pixie sporting butterfly wings?
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Tom Turpin may write to him in care of this publication.