Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

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Thursday, 10 March 2011


Victorian fairy painting

Earlier today, I was reading ‘The Problem of Pygmy Fairies’ on Beachcombing’s Bizzare [sic] History Blog (at http://beachcombing.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/the-problem-of-pygmy-fairies/), which provides an interesting consideration of the largely-discounted Victorian belief that fairies may have been a race of primitive human pygmies. At the end of that post, Beachcombing appended the following email, received from one Firth Cultist:

“9 March 2011: This email came in from Firth Cultist and opens up a whole series of other fairy questions – Beachcombing was reminded of the stories concerning fairy changelings (another post another day). ‘I would like to know if you have ever seen the Wikipedia description of a rare syndrome called Williams syndrome here in the U.S. and Williams Beurens syndrome in the U.K. The April 2011 issue of National Geographic contains an excellent article with pretty photos and graphs on a Siberian project to domesticate foxes and study the genetic changes brought on by domestication. The rare condition Williams Beurens Syndrome was listed as of interest to scientists studying domestication because the people born with it are especially gregarious. The syndrome is described as a combination of about 26 missing genes. Further reading after quick Internet searches revealed that people with this syndrome are exceptionally kind, highly verbally skilled and they have a tendency to be famously musical and possess perfect pitch. The syndrome is characterized by a lack of elastin in the body which gives a certain look to the features. The Wikipedia entry suggests that these people were thought of as magical because they were so kind and trusting , friendly and musical. They might have been one source of fairy legends. Wikipedia is not such a great source but I just wanted to mention this connection along with the pygmy theory. God bless those who suffer from this syndrome and all those parents and loved ones who care for them. Their abilities run the gamut from needing life-long assistance to living independently and holding PHD level degrees and jobs.’ Thanks a million Firth Cultist!”

As soon as I’d read this, it reminded me about a short account that I’d written on this very same subject more than a decade ago, for inclusion in my book Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), but which was dropped from the final manuscript for reasons of space. Until now, I’d totally forgotten about it, but when I scanned through the original unedited manuscript of that book, which I've retained on file, there was the item of text in question, which I’d written in 1998 or early 1999. So here, finally making its public debut 12 years later, is my own account on the intriguing suggestion that the Little People may indeed be linked to Williams syndrome:

“The origin and identity of fairies, or the belief in fairies, is a subject that has taxed countless generations of scholars and folklorists. Elemental nature spirits, externally-projected human thought-forms, fallen angels, the souls of dead unbaptised children or of those deceased persons too good to be condemned to Hell but not good enough to be permitted entry into Heaven, dimly-recalled memories of a primitive tribe of under-sized humans supplanted long ago by our taller burlier ancestors, even interdimensional entities that in reality are one and the same as the Grey aliens and other supposed extraterrestrials - these are just some of the many explanations postulated for these diminutive beings down through the ages.

“During the late 1990s, however, a remarkable new theory of fairies was aired, which proposed that they were real and were human, but exhibited a little-known genetic condition - one that engenders elfin features characterising typical fairy morphology.

“First recognised medically in 1961, Williams syndrome is a rare genetic disorder present at birth, affecting males and females equally, occurring in all ethnic groups, and recorded from all parts of the world. It is estimated to occur in a ratio of 1:20,000 births.

“Believed to arise as a result of an unexplained deletion of the elastin gene on one of the two chromosomes making up chromosome pair #7 in a person's genetic complement, Williams syndrome can cause a number of internal developmental abnormalities, but also yields some very distinctive facial characteristics. In children, these include large eyes (whose irises sometimes possess a conspicuous white lacy pattern known as a starburst), small upturned nose, oval ears, wide mouth, full cheeks, and small chin.

“Behaviourally, children exhibiting this medical condition are noticeably friendly and gentle, but unafraid of strangers and adults, and display a unique strength in their expressive language skills. They are also often unusually gifted in - and appreciative of - music and dance, and exhibit an extremely acute sense of hearing. Left-handedness is another widely-reported trait.

“After studying over 200 anthologies and stories of fairies, Professor Howard Lenhoff from California University was struck by similarities between traits attributed to the Little People and those noted above for persons (especially children) exhibiting Williams syndrome. So much so that media accounts (e.g. The Times, 1 December 1997) revealed that he considered it possible that tales of fairies were originally inspired by Williams syndrome youngsters - long before this was recognised and diagnosed as an actual medical condition.”


  1. Very intriguing article Karl. I have a particular curiosity for Changelings and Stocks.
    Where Changelings are concerned it is possible that a number of syndromes with notable physical characteristics could account for babies being thought of as being of Faerie or Goblin stock. Progeria and Downs Syndrome are two that instantly spring to mind.
    Supposed changelings were said to often develop as dreamy individuals in adulthood sometimes with alleged psychic abilities, (perhaps the detachment and formidable specific focus of Asperger's and Autism could apply here?) Others were said to possess what now would be termed 'Special Needs'. That of course are the ones who were given chance to grow and were not left out to the elements, put on a dung heap, or slowly toasted on a spade over the fire and whatever other methods that were reputedly used to encourage the fays to return on the swap.
    Also of note should be that the notion of fairies as 'Little People' is a more recent development of the lore perhaps encouraged from Shakespearean times. Prior to accounts of the Fairie races ranged immensely in size from diminutive to immense. Some types were said to be shape-shifters that could vary their dimensions easily.

  2. Hi Andy - great comments, and certainly some syndromes are plausible explanations for various reports in early days of changelings, fairy folk, etc, long before the scientific, genetic explanations were revealed.

  3. http://www.classickidstv.co.uk/wiki/The_Riddlers

    Fairy-like creatures in a British kids TV show from the 80s with features looking distinctly like a caricature of Williams Syndrome...

  4. Interesting! I'd never seen or even heard of this series before. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  5. I'm under the impression that the earlier incarnations of the fairy were usually thought to be untrustworthy, often cruel and quite dangerous. Hence things like calling them 'the fair folk' or 'the good people' - you should do everything not to anger them. Even at their best they'd play tricks on humans, and their sense of humor tended towards nasty.

  6. It all depends upon which particular area or mythology is under consideration here. In some areas, the Faerie Folk were basically considered benign, in other areas, not so. Also, there are many different types of Faerie Folk, some of which were benevolent, some malevolent, and some mercurial.

  7. And let's not forget the discovery of the remains of of those miniature humans, invariably nick-named 'Hobbits' by the media,found somewhere in Malaysia a few years ago.
    Jon Abrams
    Brooklyn, ny

  8. Some may have been attributed to Williams syndrome, but... if research is done they are a species that do/did exist, at least thru the mid 1980's, water pollution and disease may have finished them off, I have trhu triangulation located only two pockets of where they used to be till then. More commonly known with linguist root forms of puk, pukas, pooka. An example, the puk-a-wadji, translation, 'little wildmen of the forest' native american Delaware. Pookas, same thing,Fox, Sauk, Ioway and mid-western tribes. Pooka river in Germany, called and meant as 'little people river', they allegedly lived along it's banks. Shakespears 'Puk", a possible rudimentary rememberance? Last seen in the Ohio Valley in the white river area in the early mid 70's both by people with phd's. I have a friend here in east central Iowa, native american older woman who remembers them when she was young, will not talk about to Anglos tho. In the early days interacted with native tribes and pointed out hunting in trade for items, clothing was of woven inner bark material, in recent times with modern cloth..not surprising as till the early 60's most farms had a ravine and dumped their trash there. The stood approx 18-22 inches tall,moved silently and lived in caves, early native stories say they were moon worshippers and it does not surprise me that is why in the British isles and elsewhere, they were seen at night in a ring and dancing. There really is alot out there one merely has to know where to look! You don't have to believe me but I have given you all enough hints... it should be easy to verify what I say. I know these and other things as it is rather a hobby for me and I think differently and know when and where to look!! Best to you all.

  9. The idea of powerful woodland spirits is universal. Holding great power and also a fickle an mercurial attitude toward humans. They are as part of Nature as much as we are. Yet they were said to be superior to anything we hope to be. To deal with them in some places was considered a great danger and run the risk of dying suddenly or disappearing for years even decades. Sometimes returning as if no time had passed at all for them or old before their time.

    One possibility which I fancy is that they are a type of unknown insect like species missing one pair of legs, super intelligent and immensely old. They have the ability to control energy flows and can hide themselves from us in many ways. (Many had left our world to live in another dimension but they still traffic with other sub species still here.) Can even affect our minds to make it seem like they are tiny humanoids with clearly insectile wings.

    Any changelings that were identified were mercilessly killed. (They finally got better at making agents of their own design but it was many failures before they did.)

    However they are looked upon it is of interest to me all the speculations. Including those right here.

    Happy Holidays every one!