The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve; Lovers to bed; 'tis almost fair --Shakespeare, "A Midsummer-Nights Dream"

For centuries in Europe, Midsummer Eve was a time of great magic and rejoicing. June 23 marked the celebration of the summer solstice--after which the sun began its annual descent--and was considered a turning point of cosmic power. Dreams and charms were said to reveal the future on this night, and fairies and other spirits were thought to abound.

Although most adults have lost the ability to commune with supernatural creatures, children often are privy to their secrets. To gain some insight into the private life of one of fantasyland's most prominent celebrities, a group of first graders from Ben W. Murch Elementary School, Northwest Washington, were interviewed about the Tooth Fairy. Most were unaware that by presenting their tooth to a good spirit like the Tooth Fairy they were being saved--as legends claim--from evil spirits who might chance by and snatch up a missing molar.

Judging from the insiders' descriptions, and the important role tooth magic plays in many cultures, she (or he, according to one eyewitness report) is extremely busy, and like most of us, is feeling the bite of inflation. (According to a study by Rosemary Wells of Northwestern University School of Dentistry, the Tooth Fairy pays an average of 66 cents per tooth.)

But here's what our Washington experts have to say about the Tooth Fairy:

Maritza Figueroa, 7: "The Tooth Fairy has long blond hair and wears a green suit. She's about the size of a doll, and she shrinks down like magic to get under your pillow. Her favorite food is sunflower seeds.

"We always leave the window open for her to fly in. She can't use the chimney or else she might bump into Santa Claus. She takes the teeth and builds houses that she lives in with the Good Fairy. The Bad Fairy lives in Chicago where it's windy. The Good Fairy lives in Florida where it's warm.

"The first time the Tooth Fairy came I got $1. But she's come seven times, and this time I got 30 cents. Some teeth are worth more than others. The back ones are worth the most. I think about 10 cents is right for a tooth."

Andre's Acosta, 8: "The Tooth Fairy is a man. I know because he came to my house three times, and I got to see him once when I pretended to be asleep. He's about my size, and he opens the window and comes in. He gave me $2, but I think I should get $5.

"He has on his head a crown, and he wears boots and a suit. He flys in a spaceship and lives 200 miles up in the sky with a bunch of other magic people. He plants the teeth and tooth trees grow."

Christopher Smith, 6: "I did believe in the Tooth Fairy until my dad told me it was him. I lost two teeth at my karate lesson and he came into my room and said 'Turn your head son.' I saw a long green thing in his hand. It was $5. Four dollars would have been better because five dollars is a lot for me to carry around.

"I think parents do that because they want you to believe in magic. It's the same thing with Santa Claus. I stayed up till 12, and that's when he's supposed to come, and I didn't see him. So I guess it's parents. It makes me feel a little sad, but glad, too, that parents want to give you things.

"Anyway, I was kind of happy because I don't like my room to get junky, and if the Tooth Fairy came, she'd mess it up."

Meredith Avery, 6: "I think the Tooth Fairy is like Tinkerbell and has blond hair with a bow in it. She has wings and, of course, a wand. Maybe she picks up your tooth with it.

"When my tooth came out I put it in the tooth pillow I got from Santa Claus. I think they're sort of friends. She has another job to make the money she gives you. Maybe it's washing clothes.

"I think she lives where it's hot. Maybe in Hawaii. I think she secretly sees the empty space in your mouth so she knows when to visit you. She keeps the teeth in a big bag, then puts them in a dump truck. When it's filled up she empties it into her castle and fills it with teeth."

Alice Moore, 7: "The Tooth Fairy has a little house up in the clouds and imagines in her mind who lost their teeth. Then she flies in their window. She collects the teeth in a box.

"When she's not flying outside she's cleaning up her house. She's been doing the same thing since she was a baby. She gets the money from her parents.

"The first two times she came to my house I got 50 cents. Then I got 60 cents, then 75 cents. I think that's about the right amount."

Eric Menell, 7: "There's no such thing as the Tooth Fairy. I know because my mom told me about three months ago. I wasn't all that surprised. I believe in magic like making pennies appear in the air, but not in ghosts and things like that. I think parents do it because they want to make their kids happy. I think it's a good idea.

"Before she told me, I thought the Tooth Fairy went to the bank and got the money she needed for that night. I thought she had a magic key that would open any door, and inspected your teeth very carefully before she left the money."

Jessica Kessler, 7: "My tooth was loose for a long time, then one day I was eating Wheaties and I thought I swallowed it. We looked all over the house and couldn't find it. So I drew a picture of my tooth and put it in the tooth pillow my Aunt Midge gave me.

"When I woke up there was a half-dollar and a dollar under my pillow. That's about the right amount. Two dollars would be okay, too.

"I think the Tooth Fairy has white hair and wears a pretty blue dress. She's big like a grown-up and lives in the clouds. She just senses it when you lose a tooth. Then she flies to your house with her wings and turns herself invisible and walks through the walls.

"I think she has a little silver pocket to put the teeth in. When she gets home she keeps the teeth in a special kind of gold box. She probably has about a million teeth."

Matthew Rist, 7: "The Tooth Fairy is my dad. I know because he told me about the second or fourth time I lost a tooth. I thought, 'Doggone it, I've been fooled!' "

"Before he told me I thought she was like Tom Thumb, but a girl, and went down the chimney like Santa Claus. I figured she built a motel out of the teeth.

"At first I got 35 cents, then I got $1. I think $25 is what you should get. I think my dad will keep on doing it until I get all my adult teeth or till I'm 11."