Fairytales — Larger-Than-Life Traditions

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At any age, there is a special place in our hearts for the Mad Hatter’s teacup or Old Mother Hubbard’s shoe. And, in this season, fairy tales are particularly magical.

Entrepreneurship & Innovation Services Librarian at Pima County Public Library Lisa Waite Bunker connects all the stories about getting lost in the forest with the fall season: Hansel & Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Baba Yaga, Snow White. She reminds us of another fall season story with a southwestern history, Pedro and Diablo, re-told by Master Storyteller Joe Hayes (see: http://www.sfaol.com/life/hayes02.html).

Tucson is the birthplace of Fairy Tale Review, an annual literary journal founded by Kate Bernheimer (now author, editor and UA professor) in 2005 to “raise public awareness of the literary and cultural influence of fairy tales, and to appreciating their power and depth as an art form.” (See resources, below, for a review of the current journal and to learn more about its editor.)

There are physical spaces in Tucson, too, where fairy tales and magic come alive. The kingdom of desert fantasy folklife is Valley of the Moon, designated as an Arizona Historic District in 1975 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.

Valley of the Moon’s tale starts with George Phar Legler, a follower of Modern Spiritualism and the mystic philosophies surrounding this early 20th century movement. George, who became known as Tucson’s Tolkien and who often dressed as a mountain gnome, purchased the 2 1/2-acre plot near North Tucson Boulevard and East Allen Road in the early 1920s and – with rocks that he had delivered by mule – he created, by himself, an enchanted fairy tale garden landscape filled with caves, rock walls, twisting paths and fantasy architecture including “Tower of Zogog” and Fairy Queen’s Magic Grotto. His fantasy land opened to the public in 1932, with George conducting most of the tours and staging magic shows.

His quirky yet lovable maze of caves was dotted with small gnomes, and miniature castles were enclosures embedded with stones and minerals, all heralding a philosophy “happiness is given, not sold.” George lived secluded on the property until, in the 1970s, a band of students helped him renovate his wonderland. The students inherited the property when Legler died.

According to the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, Valley of the Moon is a “rare expression of post-World War I Spiritualism” in Arizona, illustrating the character and architecture of a mythical story-book movement. Valley of the Moon still exists in a lovable, haphazard way, kept alive through a band of volunteers and foundation, open to the public once a month and for special events held seasonally. This home of wizards and fairies also houses several of the Magic Carpet Golf iconic status including Spider Tree.

Valley of the Moon
Valley of the Moon

What is the appeal of this storybook forest? Librarian Lisa wonders if the draw is because a “…part of us …will always reach for the book with ‘Secret’ in the title, or privately hope that fairy folk are real. What’s that tinkling bell? The mystery is half the fun. I hope it is always inhabited by Tucson’s dreamers, and that they continue to bring their own imaginings to the place.”

Tucson Weekly writer Mari Herreras has these recollections about visiting Valley of the Moon with her son, Rafi:

When I first started taking my son to Valley of the Moon he was six years old. It’s around this age, even younger, that the fairy tale qualities really appeal to this group. Their annual shows always have a theme, …around kindness, but also good always conquering evil. Each person coming in would grab a magic stone — meant (to) ward off the bad guys in the play, but also help the good guys do good, too. I was always entranced by how Rafi gingerly held these rocks in his hands for several years, and like everyone, would reach out to use the rock to defeat evil with all his little heart and soul. He understood this was fiction, sure, but it was also understood immediately that this was and is a special place — you’re allowed to get carried away into the play and into the little nooks and cranies of the park – the little fairy houses and steps leading to special cool places. Our imaginations could take flight without worry that anyone would make fun of us — we were in this little world together…”

No mystical tale is complete without a passageway, a waypoint between one world and the next. Perhaps that is a role of Valley of the Moon. In a world of mobile tech and electronic gaming, this land of imagination is a portal to the quirky corners of Tucson folklife.


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