The Magic Kingdom

by Wolf Pascoe on March 6, 2011

It is not a matter of old forms nor new forms …. but what freely flows from the heart. — Anton Chekhov

We took Nick to Disneyland about a year ago, something I’d been looking forward to for a long time. I confess to being a willing participant in the sentimentalization of the past. Get me on a raft to Tom Sawyer’s Island.

Disneyland was not the way I remembered it. I was exhausted after our trip, and not in a good way. The whole experience seemed more choreographed, the selling more relentless and industrialized. Everywhere we turned there was something to buy, and that became Nick’s experience. He was in a giant store.


Of course, it’s not that Disneyland was ever anything else but the packaging of an idealized childhood. But we live in a time when childhood itself has lost innocence.

We went on the Matterhorn, the Haunted House, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. We took a raft to Tom Sawyer’s Island. It’s still my favorite place in the park, the only location where you can’t buy anything.

Nick had a great time, but we haven’t been back since. He’s never asked to go back. For Nick, Disneyland was nothing special. The whole world is Disneyland now, a series of virtual realities and packaged experiences, all of them monetized.

Lately I’ve been reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to Nick at bedtime. I think about the book in the context of Disneyland. Is it just another virtual reality–Mark Twain’s idealization of his own lost childhood?

When I ask questions like this, I know I’m thinking too much.

I recommend checking Tom Sawyer out of the library and reading it to your kid when he or she is nine or ten. It’s free. You’ll both split your sides laughing. And the characters are indelibly written. They flow freely from the author’s heart into yours.

Twain’s language took Nick some getting used to. The cadences are both leisurely and complex, distinctly not modern. But after a few chapters he was caught up in the spell.

He’s forgotten the toys he brought home from Disneyland. But I don’t think he’s going to forget our reading this book together.

. . .



Tending Ghosts

Strange Visitor from Another Planet



You might also enjoy:

A Passage to Disneyland from Attachment Parenting Blog

Are Disney Princesses Evil? An interview with Peggy Orenstein

A short, silent film of Twain, made by Thomas Edison in 1909:




Express yourself! Any thoughts about Disneyland? I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf March 6, 2011 at 8:56 am

This is lovely.

I never took my boys to Disneyland or Disneyworld. I didn’t think it would be our sort of thing, and fortunately (for them) there was the occasional amusement park and the European version (of amusement parks), when visiting their grandparents and cousins.

More rides and slides, less commercialism.

I also never read them any Mark Twain. I recall my older son reading H. G. Wells, but not Twain. You make me realize how much I haven’t introduced them to – this certainly doesn’t scratch the surface. Not only books, but music, and other experiences.

We hope they discover the good things along the way, including those we did, once, and other good things we don’t even realize await them.


Wolf Pascoe March 6, 2011 at 9:00 am

Not even Paris Disney? Je suis surpris.


BigLittleWolf March 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Nope. No Euro-Disney! (But they got plenty of more genuine Euro-experience with cousins. Cool parks, mountains and streams, beaches, and the local crow races. Oh, don’t get me started on the crow races!)



Wolf Pascoe March 7, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Crow races? Okay. I won’t ask.


Doug March 6, 2011 at 11:10 am

Hmmm… We are on our way to Dland this week with our 2 boys. It is our third time. I am wondering if their experience is framed / created by us ~ his mom & dad. We love the rides. We spent hours before our first trip watching videos on YouTube of the rides. I would recommend this since our boys decided some rides were too scary.

They have the day all planned ~ based on which rides they will go on. I agree with your point in your post… AND there are some great rides to go on ~ if you love rides.

The boys also know how much money they get and are planning on how to spend it. Yes, there will be a few melt downs about wanting something ~ but they will be overshadowed by the rides for us.

I’ll let you know how it goes!


Wolf Pascoe March 6, 2011 at 11:35 am

I never shared my disappointments about the place with Nick. He said he’d go back again, but wants a larger budget for buying things. Apparently the $10,000 I allowed wasn’t enough.


Raffi March 6, 2011 at 11:23 am

One of my children went to UCI for undergrad. A yearly pass to Dland was part of the must have as after stressful days and exams it was a great escape to the safety of childhood. Of course as an adult, specifically a college student, it is easier to reign in on the extra and needless expenses.


Wolf Pascoe March 6, 2011 at 11:39 am

Disneyland as an escape from college stress sounds better than Ft. Lauderdale.


DamioNIN March 6, 2011 at 11:52 am

As I used to work for the mouse I can say that Disney as a place of wonder as it used to be, is almost forgotten. The attractions that once were state-of-the-art now, as you mention play second fiddle to what can be found at home. Unless a child is very fond of Mickey and the gang, going to Disneyland is just a place to play. The magic is no longer there for me as I was able to see behind the large doors that hide the wizards that make things go, however I do hope as my child grows her love of Disneyland is there as it is now an American tradition. If a child can’t go into the park with a wonderment of the magic it contains, I can’t imagine imagination living on much longer.


Wolf Pascoe March 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm

A therapist once told me that Disneyland, when it appeared in dreams, was a symbol for creativity. That spoke to the imaginative power the park once had. In my dreams now, the experience of creativity has found other metaphors.


Barbara March 7, 2011 at 12:24 am

I’m one of the handful of people in the world who still hasn’t made it to one of the Disney parks. I’m still hoping to go, although I’ll probably feel the way you did about it!


Wolf Pascoe March 7, 2011 at 7:22 am

My impression is you live the kind of rooted home life that Disneyland tries to bottle. You’d walk down main street and go, “Yup.”


Sirena March 7, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Hey, can I go to Disneyland with YOU and the $10,000.00 budget? I promise I won’t go over budget lol.

The way I see it, there are Disneyland People amd NON Disneyland People (you know, those that think that anything Disney is the anti-Christ). I’m one of those people that LOVE Disneyland, even in it’s current incarnation. I get an annual premium pass every year and go as many times as I can find someone to go with me. Unfortunately, I only know one person that likes to go, everyone else (including my husband) hates the place. Call me superficial, commercial, silly, but I feel REALLY good at Disneyland and return home feeling happy and refreshed. Unlike the REAL WORLD, eveyone at Disneyland is extremely nice, even if it IS fake. I know, I know, it’s very commercial now and there’s a gift shop every 20 feet, but I still find it a lot of fun and a wonderful escape for me. It’s not for everyone, and I understand why many people don’t like to go there. I remain an avid reader and I’m happy Nick loves Mark Twain. So, just thought I’d put in my 2 cents for old Walt….

Hey Barabara, let me know and we can spend a happy day in the “Happiest Place on Earth”!!!!


Wolf Pascoe March 7, 2011 at 8:42 pm

You should take some of your patients to Disneyland. I’m sure it beats Thorazine.


Sirena March 8, 2011 at 1:21 pm

HA HA. Seriously, I think if anyone with any sort of illness would do more of what makes them happy, I think people would get well faster. And yes, ANYTHING beats Thorazine, even Disneyland lol. I have another Disneyland fix, I mean, trip, planned for April and I’ll keep you posted on everything Disney. Now REALLY seriously, I love that Nick is into books and stories and activities that stimulate his imagination, which I agree is better than Disneyland for children any old day. I haven’t been to Tom Sawyer’s Island since I was a kid, so I’ll have to make sure to go next time. When will you be giving me the $10,000.00 for my Disneyland shopping spree????


Wolf Pascoe March 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Send me your social security number, address, bank account and credit card info and I’ll wire the funds immediately. Then I’ll be heading back to Nigeria.


nelson RN March 9, 2011 at 5:07 am

We went to Disneyland Hongkong last year, but my son was still too small to really appreciate the place (he was about 1.5 years old). Although the trip was supposed to be for the son, it’s me and my wife who enjoyed it a lot. Despite the commercialism around the place, that did not affect our stay there somehow. We never bought a lot of stuff. But just the thought of us being together in a happy place with happy people, make us think of coming back there soon.


Wolf Pascoe March 9, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Didn’t know there was one in Hong Kong. Next time I’m in Hong Kong, I’m there.


Tom March 10, 2011 at 12:08 am

I loved watching that 1955 TV extravaganza hosted by Art Linkletter with Ronnie Reagan and Bob Cummings as color commentators. In watching that video I was hit by a wave of sadness at my own sense of innocence lost.

Like you, Wolf, I always loved Tom Sawyer’s island. The cave was my favorite spot where it didn’t take much imagination to find your way into Mark Twain’s world. BTW, I read “Tom Sawyer” to my daughter when she was 8 or 9 years old. She resisted the first few chapters and then was completely taken in.


Wolf Pascoe March 10, 2011 at 8:03 am

I wrote about the cave in an early post here. My dad had taken me to Disneyland when I was four.

“We came to Injun Joe’s cave, now renamed something piratish, and wandered in. If you’ve ever been there, you know the dark maze of passageways. To a four-year-old, it’s a forbidding place. One wrong turn and you’ll never find your way out.

“Somehow my dad and I got though it alive. What I didn’t know, of course, is that every side tunnel doubled back to the main. You can never get lost in that cave. It’s a good plan for raising a child. Allow the experience of risk, and don’t let on how you’ve made it safe.”


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