Some devastating news stopped my presses a couple of years ago, and as it’s always done, my mind set up a thorny wall of a barrier to protect me from harm . . . “ignore it, and it won’t be true,” however ineffective, is a perfectly logical mode of self-preservation. It’s been about a decade since I’ve set foot in that magic kingdom down in Anaheim, and I think the chances of my returning someday were already pretty slim. Frequent were my childhood visits to Disneyland; Dad and I still talk about the splendid time we had on the day we went in the rain. The yellow ponchos we were forced to buy that day are still crumpled up in one of my closets, preserving any amount of childhood that will stay preserved. Having gone with every friend and every family member over the course of my 18-year stay in southern California, a piece of my heart melted away forever when I heard the Disneyland Villain Shop had opened and closed its doors for the last time. The next time I went down to visit my parents, I made sure my Ursula pin was still prominently on display in my childhood bedroom.
The villains get the best lines. The villains get the evil wardrobe. The villains get the brainlessly devoted sidekicks. Best of all, the villains get the strutting music. Leaving Disney for a moment and with much respect to Mr. Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” it’s the Wicked Witch’s theme music that provides me with a needed confidence boost. The attachment I felt to these wonderful villains—specifically to Disney’s interpretations of them—was perhaps not the fascination of other little boys, but luckily I remember feeling no shame about being able to recite Maleficent’s spells, not the latest baseball stats or trading deals. If any shame floated around somewhere in my subconscious, generously the Disneyland’s Villain Shop provided a comfort, knowing my love of evil was shared. This alleged subconscious shame wasn’t a gender role thing; it may have been the fear of my love of wickedness. A cartoon adaptation of Tallulah Bankhead who wanted nothing more than to make fur coats out of puppies . . . was I supposed to feel shame about loving someone so completely honest, witty, and selfish?
In college I enrolled in an anthropology course for no other reason than it fit the schedule and provided enough time to get home for Will & Grace drinking games. Anthropology 161: Narrative Folklore with Professor Alan Dundes would do; it was twice a week, had “p.m.” in its time slot . . . and it changed everything. Dundes divided the semester into genres: myth, legend, and folktale with a brief side trip into ballad. I was completely mesmerized by this brilliant Freudian folklorist who forced us all so often to disagree with him. Interpretations of folklore, including our beloved villains (both before and after their Disney makeovers), were not to be memorized; it was the method of various interpretations that had to be understood. With a few gems here and there, for 20 years I had been spitting back facts to the majority of my educators while retaining very few. Alan Dundes provided my young-adult self with comfort and curiosity, reminiscent of that young boy’s unique sense of belonging felt in the Magic Kingdom’s shop of misbehaviors.
Thank you, Professor Dundes . . .
Thank you, Disneyland Villain Shop . . .
. . . this 32-year-old and his witch’s hat will be forever grateful.