The Keys to the Castle – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Our own Bonnie Grove wrote an inspiring post a few days ago on the value of daydreaming and its connection to imagination titled “Scribble on the Walls of Life. “   She encouraged us to play, to imagine and pretend.   Rejuvenating stuff for harried, stressful lives.

On a vacation last weekend, I was able to revisit a major source of imagination from my childhood — The Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City, Maryland.   Revisit isn’t exactly the word. We pulled off the highway and took photos at the castle entrance.   The park’s been closed since the 1980s when it became a retail shopping center.   Now Old King Cole directs shoppers to the Safeway instead of the quaint park that fired our dreams and imprinted our hearts with wonder.

The Enchanted Forest, built in 1955, was the first theme park in Maryland.  It had no mechanical rides or flashy special effects.   It offered a fairytale land with Peter Pumpkin Eater’s house, a rainbow slide, Alice’s Wonderland, the seven dwarves’ cottage and glittering cavern, the three pigs’ homes, Robin Hood’s barn, a gingerbread house…sigh.   When you crossed the threshold, you raced to leave reality behind.

My niece and I were only four years apart in age, and we would lie awake the night before our yearly visits planning the route we would follow and which souvenirs to buy.   I still treasure my souvenirs from the gift shop.   We didn’t care that some of the paint was flaking off the mache-like characters and the pond surrounding Mt. Vesuvius smelled faintly of chlorine.   Reality held no power there.   We had permission to escape to the land that shimmered with fairy dust.

Once we stuck our toes in the waters of enchantment, it was a short swim to full-length fiction.   Narnia, Middle Earth and Camelot unfolded their road maps.   We searched out secret openings in cupboards, kept our eyes peeled for hobbit footprints among the ferns and sharpened our makeshift swords.   When the stories ended, we remembered with fondness our time there and treasured the souvenirs we picked up along the way.

Imagination is an illusive thing that must be nurtured to grow. Writers know that it meets you at the same place at the same time each day, if properly trained.   If you miss a day or sleep in late, your characters will be lined up at the entrance, arms crossed, tapping their feet.   But they won’t wait for long.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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5 Responses to The Keys to the Castle – A Novel Matters Guest Post

  1. Sharon K. Souza April 27, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    I love this post, Debbie. I never had an enchanted forest to go to as a child, but I spent each August with my grandparents, along with my sisters and cousins, and sometimes my brothers. It was the highlight of my year. Your post took me back for a few moments. Thank you. So glad you were able to be with your mother on her 90th birthday!

  2. Ariel April 27, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    On the north side of my grandparents home is a juniper hedge that was not supposed to grow taller than four feet. They planted that hedge almost sixty years ago, and last we measured, it was fifteen feet tall. Between the hedge and the house is a shaded hiding place filled with thick, twisted roots, dried berries, and a mattress of fallen juniper needles. It smells of evergreen imagination. My mother played there as a child. As did I. And my brothers and sisters. My children play there now and I suspect that they can hear the echo of my own laughter. Such an ordinary, yet magical place. For six decades no adult has had the heart to trim that hedge. I’d cry if they did.

  3. Ariel April 27, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Oh! And thanks for such a wonderful post, Debbie. It was a joy to read. And to remember…

  4. Heather Ablondi April 27, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    This post brought back so many good memories for me. The Enchanted Forest was a major part of my childhood, as well. I even had my birthday party in one of the little cottages one year, complete with Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood. Many of the structures have been salvaged from the property and moved to Clark’s Elioak Farm. I loved being able to take my children to see the houses and characters that meant so much to me when I was a kid.

  5. Debbie Thomas April 27, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Heather, I’m so glad we share memories of the Enchanted Forest. I live in California so I don’t get there very often, but I plan to visit Clark’s Elioak Farm the next time I’m in Maryland. I was able to take my daughter to the park when she was 2 1/2 but she doesn’t remember much about it. I’m impressed that you got to have a birthday party there!

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