Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Harper & Row, 1963
I probably read Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are about a thousand times as a little guy. Love it. Sendak creates some of the most memorable images in children’s literature. And it’s the images that drive the story. In fact, the “wild rumpus” sequence is told entirely without words in 3 full-page spreads (six total pages). Also, early in the tale, we see a picture on the wall of Max’s room that he drew (which both illustrates his fantastic imagination and foreshadows the adventure to come). The story is very simple, told with basic vocabulary in fewer than ten sentences. Max is sent to his room without dinner because he’s being wild. He then has an elaborate daydream in which he sails to where the wild things are and envisions himself as the wildest wild thing of all. He is then brought home by the smell of his dinner, which is waiting for him at his door. And it’s still warm.
Spike Jonze film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are found mixed reviews upon its release. I, however, enjoyed it immensely. I’ve often heard it described as an adult meditation on childhood. And I think that’s an accurate description. Especially because one of the most wild parts of childhood is pain. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen the film, but I still remember the expression of concern and confusion on Max’s face when his teacher talks about the finite nature of the universe. And then there’s the heartbreaking scene in which Max is playing under his mom’s desk (maybe telling her stories?) as she works. She enjoys time with her son, but she wears the pained expression of adulthood. There’s longing and sadness in her eyes, and it makes Max hurt, too. And feel sad. And the hardest thing about all of it is that he doesn’t understand. I got a little choked up watching that scene. And it altered my expectations of the film. And the way I watched the rest of it. Max spends his time in the land of the wild things trying to make a child’s wild nature and understanding of the world fit into what he believes are the adult rules. But those rules just don’t make sense. I come away from the film feeling that life, generally, makes so much more sense as a child. And maybe that’s why I still love this story (both the book and the film) so much. Hell, maybe that’s why I love children’s literature so much. Thank you, Mr. Sendak.