Opal Whiteley was born in 1897 and grew up in the forests near Cottage Grove, Oregon, in the land of America. She was a child who eagerly learned all she could about everything around her, in books, by asking questions, and especially by watching and observing the ways of all the natural creatures -- whom she called fairies. When she was about six years old, she began to keep a diary. She wrote on any kind of paper she could find -- from paper sacks to leaves. As she grew up, she continued to write down the things she saw around her and learn more and more.
When she was a teenager, Opal traveled. She visited towns and camps and spoke to children and their parents about the beautiful fairyland around them. Often the children would accompany her on walks into the forest, enchanted and mesmerized by all the things Opal would show them about the beautiful fairies and their ways. Eventually, she put these observations in a book called The Fairyland Around Us -- which is presented here for you, as she says, "So that others may know some of the same joy."
Opal's dream was that you would know some of the joy that she found so abundant in the fairyland around us. Although she had raised large sums of money to pay for the publication of The Fairyland Around Us, there were difficulties at the last minute and the original publishing plans were scrapped by the would-be printers, who claimed they would need more money because Opal had changed the text before printing.
Disappointed, but not giving up her dream, Opal managed to further save enough money to pay for the binding of two or three hundred books, with blank pages where the illustrations were to go. Opal worked tirelessly, pasting in wildlife pictures and writing captions by hand. She eventually had completed enough books to send to some of her earlier sponsors. Today, only about five of these books are known to still exist. One has remained at the University of Oregon library under special care. It is from this book the web site has come.
The Original Fairyland Book
Opal sent copies of The Fairyland Around Us to ministers and presidents. In America, Mr. P. P. Claxton, Commissioner of Education exclaimed in a letter to Opal, "I have read your book with interest and delight. I should be glad indeed if copies of it could be put in all of the schools of the United States."
Still inspired by her dream, Opal traveled to the eastern lands of America and asked an influential editor named Ellery Sedgwick if he would publish her book. This idea did not suit him. Instead, he wanted to publish the diary she kept as a little girl. The diary had been torn to shreds -- presumably by Opal's sister when they were still young. Opal worked very hard for many months putting the diary back together.
When the early diary was published, people all over the land fell in love with it. But others, jealous of its enormous energy, worked very hard to discredit Opal. Somehow the beauty of the diary itself became overshadowed by a largely rootless controversy in which some people found it difficult to believe that a little girl could had written such a magical work of art. This is akin to throwing away a beautiful painting because no one knows for sure when it was painted.
Opal, heart-broken once again, began to travel around the world, looking for a family deep in her heart, but a family that few people believed in. This was a family Opal remembered before she arrived in Oregon. Opal called these parents her Angel Mother and Angel Father. Although there was little tangible evidence of Opal's Angel parents that could be found, one should not disregard the idea of their existence -- for there is a great deal of mystery surrounding her true origins. Opal traveled to Europe, and then around the world to India looking for connections to her Angel parents.
Still, she could not locate those whom she felt were her true family. After so many years, Opal landed in England, where misunderstanding people found her and made her a ward of the state.
Whenever someone finds beauty that is so great they must share with others, there are always others still who become confused and spend a lot of energy trying to curtail the effects of beauty. Thusly, original thinkers and gifted people like Opal are often misunderstood in their own time. The appreciated beauty of an artist's work can often become muddled by misconceptions that come from focusing not on the beauty of the art itself, but on the artist and the things about the artist that are not easily understood without looking deeper.
Although Opal wasn't appreciated enough in her time, her writings still remain with us. And because her writings are wonderfully genuine and beautiful, they will remain with us as long as they are made available to everyone and given the chance to inspire others. As long as this happens, then the beauty of Opal's work will always be alive, and what she hoped so much that we would understand still remains for us, awaiting our blooming awareness.
All you need to do is go outside and look around, and if you look hard enough, you will find it. Opal found it, and when she did, she wrote about it. Her writings are found here, for you to look at and find inspiration in.
Presented to you by David A. Caruso
Summer of 1999