As a child, author Lesley M.M. Blume had an active imagination. She attempted old-fashioned spells in hopes of conjuring up fairies and envisioned miniature men running in and out of the mysterious little doors along the Lincoln Tunnel.
Now an adult, Blume has used her childhood fascination with the fantastic to craft a contemporary field guide to the fairy world of present-day Manhattan. It's called Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties, and, for a book about fairies, it's not as sweet as you'd expect.
"Traditionally, children's fairy tales have not been very nice and this book, while it is modern, also returns to those dark roots of children's literature," Blume tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "Look at the Grimms' fairy tales, for example. [Or] When you see the original Little Mermaid, it most certainly did not feature singing and dancing crabs and shellfish."
At the same time, Blume says she's updated the usual fantasy fare by making the world of fairies more accessible to children — literally.
"You no longer have to leave unicorn hairs and other now-arcane objects on the hearth to invite fairies to visit," she says. "My book tells you how to connect with that world using objects found in every household or supermarket today."
In Modern Fairies, gummy bears and animal crackers are all you need to summon fairy visitors — and a drive through the Lincoln Tunnel is all you need to spot them.
Blume says she never stopped wondering about those early childhood fantasies of little men running in and out of the doors of the Lincoln Tunnel — and now, she knows all about them.
"Behind these doors are not nuts and bolts or workers munching on sandwiches," Blume says. "There is a fantastical dwarf forest and they are harvesting apple-size rubies, and you'll be very, very surprised to hear how those rubies show up in the modern world."
In another of Blume's stories, "A Face Made From Flowers," a little girl is teased incessantly by her beautiful sisters because she herself isn't beautiful.
"All she wants is to be made beautiful," Blume says. "She encounters a curious breed of fairies who live in a fairy ring in her backyard called flower fairies and she asks them to make her beautiful, as if that will solve all of her problems."
But, of course, it doesn't. "A Face Made From Flowers" gives a taste of the injustice that permeates Blume's book, the characters of which often end up disappointed. And Blume says there's good reason for that.
"I think that it's important to realize that not every problem in life has a neat solution," she says, "and even if it did, that solution wouldn't necessarily bring the results that you wanted."