The chief ambassador for the magic kingdom of childhood is an oversized mouse. One of a few cultural figures recognized by his first name alone, Mickey is such an icon that his ubiquitous smile and welcoming gloved hands have erased much of the strangeness and the history by which a cheerful rodent became a symbol for dreams beyond the Freudian variety of wolf-man nightmares. Insistently invoking imagination as the antidote to reality, the mouse subsumes culturally distinct renditions of animals and children under a generic rubric, the Disney fairy tale, which has all but erased its diverse cultural traces and origins. But the mouse inadvertently tells us something about the history of children and animals—namely, that they are fungible as categories and in their relation to one another. If Mickey defines childhood, he also reminds us of the fact that children and animals define one another as creatures similarly exempt from adult subjectivity, as pairs that contrast “the human” and “the animal,” as companions or as adversaries. For that matter, the further we enter into the Magic Kingdom’s invention of an animal kingdom, the more this strangeness becomes evident: If Mickey is a mouse, and Donald is a duck, and...

This essay may be found on page 13 of the printed volume.

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