Top: Fairy tale architecture at Rock City, atop Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee blended an enchanted style with the natural surroundings.
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I grew up in a place, and currently live in a place, where the word enchanted is almost taboo. Saying something is enchanting here would get you weird looks, and people might try to avoid you in the future. Speaking of such things automatically ostracizes you from a lot of folks. It’s weird, but true. Enchantment is for children and sensitive women. I am neither.
So it’s almost like coming out to talk about some of these things. People outgrow it. I never did. I still find fairies, fairy tales and fables … fucking enchanting.
I didn’t grow up in a household that read. Reading is what you had to do for school, except for Reader’s Digest, Redbook, Good Housekeeping and for a while, my dad read westerns. My Granny Bert had some Reader’s Digest condensed books, and the lodger who lived with her, my grandpa essentially, was the only member of our extended family with a bookshelf. Two shelves of books on geology mainly.
I had one stack of children’s books, and the only ones I distinctly remember was Willy Woo and The Little Engine That Could. So I always wondered how even as a child I knew the classic fairy tale plots.
This summer I sussed it out. It was partly Fractured Fairy Tales from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, I knew that much. Even as a kid you can pick up the sarcasm but discern the plot and characters. It was also Disney, the classics which as a child, you were lucky to see once or twice, when they rereleased in the theater or on TV. That forced you to use your imagination to remember it.
But what really made the fairy tale realm enchanted to me, remained a mystery till this summer.
I’ve had hints of it driving around southern Illinois and Indiana where I grew up. When I was little, we went to Santa Claus Land, America’s first theme park I believe, in southwest Indiana, which had quite a bit of this weird, mid twentieth century architecture style that greatly favored classic storybook art. There’s even a house like that in the town where I live, looking quite out of place, like an overgrown child’s playhouse. But they have their charms.
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This summer I went to Rock City, for the first time in almost fifty years. It was a regular stop back then, a good chance to stretch your legs on the way to Florida. I remembered it shared a similar storybook feel, but didn’t realize till I saw it through older eyes how enchanted it really is.
On top of Lookout Mountain, in the mountains of Tennessee, someone got the idea to incorporate a fairy tale world into the natural rock formations. There were elves, witches, dwarves, gnomes and a vast array of tableaus of classic fairly tale, all under black light so they glowed. I had forgotten how amazing that was to a small child. And to these tired eyes as well.
I had some Britons with me, and I felt the need to show them our castles, our fairy tale worlds. I don’t know if they got it or not, though they were knocked out by the natural beauty.
I’ve been in quite a few castles, in a few countries, and essentially without a story, they’re just an interesting pile of bricks. There has to be something to catch the imagination, and age has nothing to do with it.
To a large extent it’s architecture, dividing space and decorating it in such a way that creates a feel. A castle is meant to look and feel formidable by nature. But as artillery got more powerful, they got more elaborate and fanciful, the idea being to impress socially rather than militarily.
Over here we took that idea and ran with it, but in an economical American fashion. We weren’t concerned with historical accuracy, we used concrete rather than stone, and the models were Mother Goose as much as Medieval Europe. These architects and designers were out to create illusion, the ability to believe in what you believed in as a child. That gets harder every year, both as individuals and as a society.
Back then, America had more imagination.
Now it’s easy to become embarrassed by the cheesiness, the kitsch of America. But the person with me on that trip taught me to see my home in a new way, in a way I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid.
I found my favorite castle high above the clouds, a place which only exist in fairy tales, and Tennessee.
Real ghost stories and the places that inspired them