Today I Lost a Tooth

Okay, I didn’t really, but I did want to discuss a mythical figure associated with the loss of teeth. The Tooth Fairy is pretty much universally known, but there isn’t any consensus on what he or she looks like (just hopefully not like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), or what the fairy’s origins are. When you think about it, the idea of someone collecting a bunch of baby teeth is a bit disturbing, especially when combined with superstitions about how teeth and hairs and the like can be used to put a curse on somebody.

Picture by Saccstry
As such, some European cultures burned or buried baby teeth. It was apparently traditional for the Norse to give their children money when they lost their teeth, however, and this was known as the tann-fé or “tooth fee.” While I can see how that could have been corrupted into “tooth fay,” I have no evidence that such was the case. No, the Tooth Fairy specifically appears to be a twentieth-century creation.

In Hispanic cultures, it’s often a mouse instead of a fairy that takes the teeth.

While not as prominent as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy has become a part of popular culture, and appeared in a good deal of fiction. In Hogfather, Terry Pratchett addresses the question of what the Fairy does with the teeth, at least as far as the Discworld goes. On the Disc, there are many tooth fairies, who are basically just people doing a job.

Granted, it’s a job that involves a certain amount of magic, but when they’re off duty they can live fairly normal lives. In addition to the money, the tooth fairies are also given pliers to remove extra teeth if they can’t make change. The original Tooth Fairy is also the original bogeyman, who developed a fondness for children after humanity overcame its primordial fears.

Pictures by Kit Cox
He lived in a castle that looked like a child’s drawing of a house, and collected and filed the teeth to prevent anyone from using them for bad purposes. When the assassin Teatime uses the teeth to stop children from believing in the Hogfather, it sets forth a chain of events that results in the Tooth Fairy fading away and a childlike thug named Banjo Lilywhite taking his place.

While such mythical figures as Santa Claus, Jack Frost, and Father Time featured in the fantasies of L. Frank Baum, and later authors brought the Sandman and the Easter Bunny into the Oz universe as well, the Tooth Fairy never makes an appearance in the main series. To be fair, the character was probably too new and undeveloped in Baum’s time. As far as I know, the only Oz book to incorporate some concept of the fairy is Chris Dulabone’s Hurray for Oz. As with the Discworld series, Chris writes of a whole network of tooth fairies. Apparently anyone can apply for the job, although it results in their being shrunk down to tiny size. When the main protagonist, Kelly, meets a tooth fairy called Spike, who rides a miniature pink motorcycle, he explains that there is no one Tooth Fairy.

Instead, it’s a regional thing, with his direct employer being Ruthie Toothie. According to him, the tooth fairies in some other regions are hags or ogres. We never find out whether anyone is in charge of the entire operation, but if someone is I wouldn’t be surprised if they lived in Oz or one of the nearby countries.

This entry was posted in Authors, Chris Dulabone, Discworld, L. Frank Baum, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Terry Pratchett and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Today I Lost a Tooth

  1. Bryan Babel says:

    Let’s not forget Guillermo Del Toro’s contributions to the lore, the Black Forest Tooth Fairies in “Hellboy 2” who eat human bones but go for the teeth first, and the hummingbird-like Tooth Fairy (and her minions) who protect early childhood memories in “The Rise of the Guardians.”

    I would be wary of the “tann-fe” connection, too. It seems woefully under-documented.

    “It is a recent tradition, only 18 years old, but it is a tradition nonetheless!”–Decapodian Emporer, Futurama.

    • Nathan says:

      A Snopes article that I found says there may be a connection to a French fairy tale about a fairy who turned into a mouse, hid under a king’s pillow, and knocked his teeth out. While there are elements there that are connected to the Tooth Fairy, it doesn’t seem close enough to the myth to really be its origin.

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