River Dad, Fairy Tales of Lyndhurst

My 5-year old daughter loves fairy tales and princesses. Shocking, I know.

Looking to capitalize on the obvious connection between fairy tales and Gothic revival architecture, Lyndhurst is once again presenting their annual Fairy Tale Holiday, where they decorate rooms in the mansion based on themes from different fairy tales. Looking to capitalize on the obvious connection between doing things my daughter likes and making her love me, we went: my wife, our daughter, our 3-year old son, and myself.

imagesBut while it had all the trappings of a Total Family Outing, this was really aimed at the one of us who generally wears princess-encrusted nightgowns.

Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t so princess-obsessed that you can just throw a tiara on a pig and tell her it’s Cinderella. She knows her fairy tales, both the Disney movies and the actual books. She loves the Grimm’s Fairy Tales – the real ones where Snow White’s Wicked Stepmother is forced to wear red-hot irons on her feet at the end and dance until she dies. So I was interested in how my little fairy tale aficionado would react to a series of rooms ‘inspired’ by her favorite stories.

You see, while I acknowledge the artistic merit of setting up a series of static, immobile fairy tale-themed dioramas (I used to do the same thing with my Star Wars figures), I wasn’t sold on the idea that the end result would be of any interest to a 5-year old girl. Luckily, I happened to have a 5-year old girl at my disposal, so the matter could be settled once and for all.

We entered the castle (hat tip to the fact that Lyndhurst is, in fact, a castle. That’s where all fairy tales belong, right?) to find a glorious sign reading "Once Upon a Time." Nice touch – gets you in the fairy tale frame of mind.

Are you ready for some fairy tales?!!!

The first thing you notice, once inside, is an immense Christmas tree. Naturally, my 3-year old son made a b-line for the shiny, sparkly tree, oblivious to the fact that it was roped off. We corralled him before he did any permanent damage, but any thought of convincing him to follow a nice, leisurely route from room to room went out the window. I could just imagine the conversation.

"Christmas tree!"

"Yes, honey. But first we have to go over to this room, then around the corner into the next room, and then we’ll come through here and see this room. We have to follow the proper path."

… Christmas tree!"

Luckily, my wife was there to keep our heat-seeking toddler missile out of trouble long enough for me to do what I came here to do: study our daughter.

The first room we hit was decorated in the theme of The Arabian Nights. Personally, I’ve never thought of The Arabian Nights as a fairy tale, but it seems Lyndhurst is using its theme as more of a guideline than a rule. Having never read the book, our daughter was clueless as to what story the room represented until I pointed out the suspiciously genie-shaped lamp. She easily guessed Aladdin, which, since it comes from The Arabian Nights, worked for me.

Once she knew this was Aladdin, everything in the room became interesting to her, including the funny-looking tube on the pillow. I told her it was a hookah. She asked me what a hookah was. I pointed to it, said "That," and moved on.

The entire castle is set up like this, with room after room showcasing a different story (most without any drug paraphernalia on display). The Cinderella room is a formal-looking display with a pumpkin and a clock pointing to midnight. The Little Mermaid room (located in an upstairs bathroom) is filled with translucent, plastic bubbles. Jack’s Beanstalk winds its way up the stairwell. In each case, children are presented with small vignettes of fantasy and asked to fill in the story for themselves.

It’s all very well done, but watching my daughter, I wondered if, in this total entertainment immersion age, it was enough. Where were the shameless merchandise tie-ins? Where were the blazing video screens flashing CGI images into her brain? Where were the speakers pumping mind-numbingly simple tunes endlessly into her skull? My fears were realized upon visiting the Beauty and the Beast display. Devoid of any external stimuli, my daughter began to sing the songs herself. My son, who has listened to the soundtrack ad nauseam as well, joined in as best he could, resulting in a quiet, disharmonic duet.

We moved on. Other themes showcased included Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood, The Princess and the Pea, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, and a Peter Pan display with more Tinkerbells than you can shake a canister of Fairy Dust at.

Through it all, my subject – my daughter – remained energized and engaged. She asked questions, discovered details I’d missed, and made connections that only someone who has memorized these stories can make. In short, she dug it. Big time. The visit was a hit.

Because for her, these weren’t boring rooms in a mansion, they were jumping off points into worlds of adventure and magic – the perfect way to stimulate the fertile canvas of a child’s imagination.

I found the visit inspiring. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going into the attic to find my Star Wars figures.

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About the Author: David Neilsen