So - I hadn't really thought about this much, beyond a general sense of "fairies are pretty cool, I guess." I don't collect them. I don't write about them (yet, anyway, although it's highly possible I will someday). I've read some great stories with fairies in them, (several of them written by my fabulous and amazing Word Whore sisters) but I don't actively seek these novels out.
The splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. ~Tennyson
Until very recently I was unaware of such terms as Sidhe, Seelie, and Unseelie - my reading took a change in course and I've now been superficially educated.
My acquaintance with fairies was curtailed somewhat as a child because my mother (a wonderful and estimable woman who encouraged almost all other kinds of reading) disapproved of fairy tales. So my first contact with fairies was brought to me by the Wonderful World of Disney. Yep. Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty. Fairies were either short, plump, and motherly, or tall, thin, and evil. They could, of course, all sing and do magic. Sing it with me now - "bibbety bobbety boo."
A little later I encountered King Arther and his Knights, and fell head over heels in love with magic. The sword in the stone. Merlin. Morgane le Fey. The Lady of the Lake. I read everything Arthurian I could get my hands on for years, and I'm still a sucker for a good take on the Arthurien legends.
After that I was reading widely and on my own, but still not finding a lot of fairies. A friend introduced me to Narnia, and from there, because Lewis had admired him, I found the wonderful tales of George MacDonald. If you haven't read him, it's worth the trouble of tracking down his fairy stories - The Golden Key, The Light Princess, At the Back of the North Wind, and a strange and meandering book called Phantastes resonated with me most.
At long last I found my way to Tolkien. His high elves made my heart ache - a beautiful ache, a yearning for something I have never known that doesn't exist, and yet I feel that I have lost it and want it back.
Which is, to me, the essence of everything faerie. Alien creatures who are just beyond our ken. Beautiful beyond our imagining, outside of the boundaries of good and evil, an echo of music we can never quite hear.