How fairy tales made a difference to Efteling theme park as early as 1952

The number 7 is a magical number that appears frequently in fairy tales. Everyone knows the seven goats which outsmart the wolf, the seven dwarfs who take Snow White into their home or Tom Thumb and his seven brothers who escape the giant. Efteling theme park in the South of Holland has been the guardian of fairy tales for 70 years and 7 June (07.07), is Fairytale Day. For Efteling’s 70th anniversary, Dr. Moniek Hover, Lecturer (Professor) of Storytelling at Breda University of Applied Sciences (formerly NHTV) looks back at the origins of the theme park, which originally opened seventy years ago as a Fairytale Forest with ten fairy tales. Professor Hover answers questions such as why did the founders choose the fairytale theme?  What influenced the design of the fairy tales and what did the Fairytale Forest mean to people in 1952?

Why did the founders choose the fairytale theme?
History records that Betty Perquin, the wife of Mayor Van der Heijden of the municipality of Loon op Zand, in 1951 proposed to her husband to create a fairytale garden with real-life fairy tales. This would boost tourism numbers in his municipality. Moniek Hover says : "You have to regard this choice in the time period of the early 1950s. For decades, people in Loon op Zand and the surrounding area worked hard in the leather and shoe industries. After the war, cities expanded rapidly and more factories appeared. Industrialisation became more important than ever. People gradually got more free time, however there was a 6-day working week and people had less than two weeks' holiday a year. Not many people went on holiday, but everyone looked forward to the annual fair. They also liked exploring the countryside to escape the urban environment and the hard work.

Fairy tales were traditionally created and told to enlighten life with 'entertainment', but also teach children something or warn them (so-called Schreckenmärchen)." In the early 1950s, the mayor saw opportunities for recreation and tourism as an economic activity and wanted to develop it with appropriate entertainment."

With his wife's suggestion in mind, the mayor involved his brother-in-law, filmmaker Peter Reijnders, who persuaded the Dutch romantic illustrator Anton Pieck to design the Fairytale Forest. Based on his numerous sketches and drawings, the Fairytale Forest took shape. Peter Reijnders brought the fairy tales to life with technology. Thus, mayor Van der Heijden, Peter Reijnders and Anton Pieck became the founders of the Efteling theme park.

What did the opening of the Fairytale Forest mean to visitors back in those days? 
Moniek Hover: "In the 1950s, there was no television and only scarce radio broadcasts, but because of its educational messages and moral significance, fairy tales were also embraced by the public as 'meaningful' entertainment. Traditionally, fairy tales were often told verbally or read to children.  

A book was given at most once a year for a special occasion. Fairy tales provided a counterbalance to the hectic society. They often took place in nature, sometimes involving romance to appeal to the imagination. Even in those days, fairy tales were a source of happiness, bringing back nostalgic childhood memories and feelings. In the Fairytale Forest, colour, sound and movement turned the wonder of fairy tales from one's own childhood into reality. In 1952, a visit to 'the cheerful place' known as Efteling cost 0.80 guilders (€ 0.36). People went there to relax in a natural environment and be amazed by the magical fairy tales."

On 31 May, the Fairytale Forest opened with ten fairy tales: Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Frog Prince, The Magic Clock, The Chinese Nightingale, The talking Parrot, The Six Servants, The Gnome Village, (The Well of) Mother Holle and Wee Walter Messenger.

Moniek Hover continues: "The fairytale-like elements such as the musical mushrooms, the gnome houses and the talking parrot caused a stir. Not to mention the growing neck of Langnek (The Six Servants) and the Grimm fairy tale that could be heard there."

The founders had not expected that the Fairytale Forest would soon become well-known throughout the country. The media such as Echo van het Zuiden, the Waalwijkse Courant and the Langstraatse Courant, among others, reported about the wonders in Kaatsheuvel extensively in 1952. Once upon a time... no, hold on, it should say: There is now the Nature Park "Efteling"... and now go on, because in Efteling the fairy tale is not a past, but a reality in the present.' The journalists were the first to experience the Fairytale Forest in which fairy tales were depicted with moving (!) figures. It was the birth of the magic that will always be connected to the Efteling theme park.

What influenced the designs of the fairy tales?
During her research in the Efteling archives, Moniek Hover found that the first ten fairy tales of the Fairytale Forest had to amaze the public above all. Moniek explains : "A number of well-known fairy tales were chosen, as well as a number of self-written ones. What the chosen fairy tales should look like was determined by Anton Pieck and Peter Reijnders. Pieck often based his drawings on illustrations he had made for the Fairy Tales of Grimm (1942). He stipulated that the fairy tales had to look like they had been there for a hundred years and that they would be built exactly to his design, with durable materials: stone walls and houses with real roof tiles.

Reijnders experimented with sound, music and movement to create an unforgettable experience. Which version exactly suited the Efteling was also discussed. Often, the choice was made for the Brothers Grimm, which were less brutal than some earlier versions. The attendance of children was considered when creating the park. Neither the fairytale scene at grandmother’s house nor the spoken story of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ could be too scary. For example, eating Little Red Riding Hood was not explicitly mentioned, but was left to the visitors imagination: "You all know what happens next...".

After 70 years, fairy tales will forever live happily ever after at Efteling
The Fairytale Forest now contains 30 fairy tales. In seventy years, the park in Kaatsheuvel has grown into an amusement park that is one of the top parks in the world. Today, Efteling is still telling stories. The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault were joined by other fairy tales. Stories that were created for large attractions such as the water coaster The Flying Dutchman, the wooden racer roller coaster George and the Dragon or the dive coaster Baron 1898. There are stories for family attractions such as Sirocco and Archipel, based on the sea voyages of Sindbad the Sailor from the Tales of 1001 Nights. Moniek Hover strongly believes that "Fairytales will forever live happily ever after at Efteling. Not only on Fairytale Day.”