In my setting diminutive races like fairies, gnomes, and gremlins exist and to handle of the cooler climates such as in Europe and protect themselves for their many predators many of them live underground. While issues like ventilation seem difficult are certainly possible given that ants and termites and food could be solved with them farming underground plants, fungi and insects.

The main issue I haven't figured out is what they'd use for lighting prior to the invention of electrical lights given that fire would proportionally need more fuel for their size and the smoke would likely prove hazardous.

Feyfolk range from 6.5 to 10 inches (16 to 25 cm) tall and while having better vision than humans still can't see in the dark well.

Given this what could feyfolk use for lighting?

Note: magic doesn't exist in my setting

  • $\begingroup$ What about will-o'-the-wisp (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) Yeah, might bread or grow them for lighting? It could even be that, due to the fae being hard to see by people, people often follow them. Leading to the leg of the wisps. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2022 at 21:45

9 Answers 9


Bioluminescent mushrooms

Since they're in areas like Europe, might I suggest they cultivate Panellus stipticus?

The mushrooms use a class of molecules called luciferins, which paired with an enzyme and oxygen, release light. Panellus stipticus (also known as the bitter oyster) is one of the brightest-glowing examples of bioluminescent fungi. It is found throughout Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. These flat mushrooms grow on tree branches creating a mesmerizing effect as soon as the sun goes down. Foragers are able to find this variety growing around birch, oak, and beech trees.

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Or cultivate some another kind that grows underground. While they might not be very bright, enough of it lining the tunnels would provide enough light for navigation and if the entire roof of an underground space were covered then it may be enough to read by if they can see better than humans as you've said.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The Fey would not have an issue seeing in the dim light f they had good night vision and just needed that little bit to see more. It may not be sufficient for humans though. After centuries of cultivation and breeding for their brightness, they may naturally grow brighter $\endgroup$
    – Sonvar
    Jan 12, 2022 at 19:55

Phosphorescent rocks

Phosphorescent materials give light after they've been exposed to it for a while. They give only a little bit of light but your feyfolk has better vision than humans so that should not matter too much. Phosphorescent rocks are rare, but they do occur naturally. They will need to be left outside the tunnels for a while to work, but predators probably won't notice the difference between those and normal rocks.


If they have more sensitive vision than humans, they could probably get away with just building lightwells. They'd need some way to help ventilate tunnel networks, and careful construction of pipes (maybe using plant stems, or maybe built as clay-lined shafts or other constructed things) would assist in air flow as well as allowing a small amount of light down. Building mirrors might be very challenging if they have no access to metal, but maybe simple glazing or glasswork is possible, to help make the light shafts more reflective.

Even if only a tiny bit of light makes it down, that might be quite enough.

Ready access to glass and metal (perhaps scavenged from humans) would make this simpler and more effective. Obviously this doesn't work at night, but in those long, dark winters one could always just sleep a lot...

Alternatively, consider the possibility that they don't need lighting.

to handle of the cooler climates such as in Europe and protect themselves for their many predators many of them live underground

One doesn't need to live underground to survive the weather as a small mammal in Europe. Hibernation might be required, and that might be done underground, as the wide variety of colors and flavors of rodents and lagomorphs and small mustelids will show, you can wander about above ground in the mornings and evenings over quite a wide chunk of the year without freezing to death.

So that leaves predation.

To pick a few kinds of potential predator... owls have been about for tens of millions of years, feliforms have existed for about forty million years, mustelids for over ten million years. The things that might eat your fey are old lineages, not new surprises.

Therefore if predation was the major reason for hiding underground, your fey would necessarily be well adapted to living down there... they'd have excellent senses of smell and hearing, and sensitivity to vibrations that would let them hear nearby things walking or digging both underground or above. Being intelligent and presumably tool users, they'd also have the ability to equip themselves with things to help navigate in pitch darkness that they hadn't evolved naturally... artificial echolocation using vocalisations or clickers, for example. Strings laid out as guide lines, twigs or blades or grass used to feel about, etc.

They might like light, and appreciate the warmth of sunlight and so on, but they don't need it.

There's no shortage of underground fey-like things in folklore after all... gnomes, knockers, kobolds and so on. Plenty of things for you to build on.

  • $\begingroup$ sorry i wasn't more clear earlier but basically the main reason why faefolk can't hibernate is due to the fact that they're descended from marmosets and only relatively recently migrated to colder climates. $\endgroup$
    – icewar1908
    Jan 12, 2022 at 22:38

They can use luciferase and luciferin

Luciferase is a generic term for the class of oxidative enzymes that produce bioluminescence, and is usually distinguished from a photoprotein. The name was first used by Raphaël Dubois who invented the words luciferin and luciferase, for the substrate and enzyme, respectively. Both words are derived from the Latin word lucifer, meaning "lightbearer", which in turn is derived from the Latin words for "light" (lux) and "to bring or carry" (ferre).

A variety of organisms regulate their light production using different luciferases in a variety of light-emitting reactions. The majority of studied luciferases have been found in animals, including fireflies, and many marine animals such as copepods, jellyfish, and the sea pansy. However, luciferases have been studied in luminous fungi, like the Jack-O-Lantern mushroom, as well as examples in other kingdoms including luminous bacteria, and dinoflagellates.

This would also explain why they are usually depicted with a faint glow around their bodies.



Feyfolk warrens include strategically placed bits of glass, "ordinary" translucent stones, or even precious gemstones, as part of their ceiling - positioned to be on the surface - to permit daylight to filter down into their tunnels and chambers. Mirrors and other small, shiny things could be arranged to spread the light further.

The skylights are usually arranged to be concealed in grass, under bushes, or otherwise out-of-the-way (so big folk won't find them). But supplying the need for skylights gives the feyfolk reason to gather things, from gems down to broken glass, from human areas. Feyfolk might even break a window now and then, though that's going to bother some big folk less than having a large diamond disappear...

This can still be supplemented by bioluminescence, and other suggestions people have made.

  • $\begingroup$ And at least some good quality mirrors at the bottom. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Jan 12, 2022 at 22:51

Probably a combination of most of these suggestions.

Lightwells, skylights, bio luminescence, plus liquid fuel lamps and even candles. No one solution, just whatever suits the local situation (how much light you need) and whats doable with the resources at hand.

So a library might get a light well, a small storage room that's only entered occasionally? A couple of candles.

There is one technology however that hasn't been mentioned but could be implemented by a pre electric society. However its risky. Piped gas lighting (perhaps methane from animal waste ingesters or coal seam gas) at least in main thoroughfares. But the local ventilation system would have to be engineered as well as the piping system was and even then there is ever present risk of things going 'boom'.



The discovery that bringing a certain rock close to another certain rock made the first rock glow elicited wonder from the curious children that discovered it. Being fey, they're immune to mundane things like radiation, so this doesn't bother them.

Wurtzite, a zinc-based mineral is handy for the property (when it has a tiny amount of copper impurity) that it glows green when exposed to the radiation from an element such as radium (or a radium salt, or other radioactive mineral).

Grinding these two things up together gives a powder with a soft lime-green glow, can be mixed with fats or oils to be used as a paint for ceilings/walls or as a handy working-light if a piece of leather is treated (meaning it can be rolled-up and stowed in a pocket for the need of it).


Fiber Optics ...sort of The Fey have learned how to grow their own crystals at home though small twisting tunnels attached to gathering pools at the surface light is funneled though the crystals into the deep chambers below.

Also nothing stopping them from growing fungi or other light sources on the surface of the grown crystals to produce light and distribute it during the night hours.


Glow Worms/Firefles

Since they have not developed things like electricity, and, as you said, fire might prove hazardous underground, it leaves a few other options. There are quite a few natural sources of light, but in this case, the source of light must:

  • A: Function underground.
  • B: Would not make life underground impossible as a byproduct.

That leaves out options like candles, lanterns, and torches, sense the smoke could prove lethal in an underground setting. It would also be preferable for the said light source to be portable, reusable "or at least sustainable," and practical.

Assuming that that the Feyfolk in your setting are intelegent, it is possible that they could domesticate a species of glowworm/firefles. If a species like Lampyris noctiluca where domesticated to be brighter, larger, and hardier, they would be perfect for a lightsource. While they are not very bright on there own, if grouped togather in large groups and contained within a transparent contrainer, than they would make a convient portable source of light.


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