Sunday, October 11, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

The approaching movie version of Where the Wild Things Are has a lot of people thinking and writing about the original. In the NY Times, Bruce Handy notes that while he loves the book now, he didn't much care for it as a child and neither of his children likes it, either.
What an empowering, psychologically astute parable about a child learning that his anger, while sometimes overwhelming and scary, can be safely expressed and eventually conquered, I thought, when I had occasion to reread the book in my 30s. But as a child myself, without benefit of personal insights subsequently gleaned from more than a decade of talk therapy, I had been left cold. . . .
I loved it as a child and still love it. I think it was my favorite picture book from the time I first read it, and it certainly is now. I know no story more powerfully magical. Only one of my children has loved it, though, my second son Thomas. The others actively resisted my attempts to reread it. This gives me an idea about why some kids like it more than others. Of my children, only Thomas shares my intense love of fantasy. He likes nothing better than to disappear into an imagined world full of magic and monsters. His favorite book is The Hobbit, he has watched all of the Lord of the Rings movies at least a dozen times, he has seen every episode of Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he has worn out our copy of Oblivion, the XBox game that is most like a Dungeons and Dragons adventure. So I think that Thomas loves Where the Wild Things Are for the same reason I did: because the hero Max finds a magical world of adventure in his own bedroom and sails to a land of wonder and back without even missing dinner. Now I get the parable about anger that Handy describes, but I'm not sure I did as a child. And I would say that as in a fairy tale or one of Aesop's fables, the moral lesson gives structure to the story but does not account for its appeal. The appeal is in the magic, and in the flow of words that tumble by like the ocean with its private boat, leading us away to a place of wonders.

4 comments:

David said...

My memory is that, as a child, the thing I liked best about the story was the variety and differentiation of the monsters. I loved looking closely to see all the ways they were different, following the different stances of each monster from page to page, and so forth. Ah, the budding obsessive-compulsive . . .

FWIW, my understanding is that "Wild Things" is not Sendak's favorite among his own books. He gives that honor to "The Night Kitchen," which I never encountered as a child but which is now my favorite of his.

John said...

I like "The Night Kitchen" ok.

My favorite line of Sendak's is, "she tumbled backwards through the window into outside over there," but that is the highlight of that strange book.

John said...

David, does Max like any of Sendak's books?

David said...

He was never that into the books. Mostly he watched the animated versions.