Maurice Sendak, the author responsible for such writing works as Where The Wild Things Are and illustrating Else Holmelund Minarik‘s Little Bear series, is dead. As is often the case when people of comparable age die, the current word is that he has died as a result of complications from a stroke.
Where The Wild Things Are constitutes the only Sendak writing I have actually read. I will be brief about the 2009 film adaptation that was directed by Spike Jonze. It sucked. Stephanie Zacharek hits the nail on the head in a few ways about why the film sucks, but I will briefly summarise by stating why I found it sucked. Namely, instead of being from the perspective of the child, as the book was, it is all about the adults in the film. Look at the naughty child, look at the hyperactive child (I am referencing a Dead Kennedys song with that), and so on. In the book, everything is from the child’s perspective. It is about the divide in a child’s mind between imagination and reality, and how certain things compel us toward responsibility.
The book, according to Francis Spufford, was one of the few of its kind that deliberately analysed the mechanics of anger and did it so well. It is a conflict between the source of our angers and the things that bring us comfort, especially when we are children. I personally think that it provides an unintended insight into the mechanics of child abuse. Every child, from the most independent and aggressive to the most servile and passive, is tethered to the place they know both by familiarity and by their needs. Even when that child has aged thirty years, escaping a place of abuse can be very difficult because, as has been said in numerous other fictions, the children often have no idea whether there is anything better out there. And the critical point that the film misses is not that the child bes a good little boy because of something he sees in the world he makes for himself. It is because he calms down and thinks about what he is doing on his own.
Sendak also stated in 2008 to the New York Times that he was gay, and had been living with a psychoanalyst named Eugene Glynn for fifty years before Glynn‘s death in 2007. His remarks about the situation in that article, as quoted by the Wikipedia, have a haunting echo for me. He said that “all I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew”. This makes me sad inside to a degree that I doubt anyone can understand. Being gay, having grown up in the late 1920s and 1930s, would have been a hard road through life. Whilst you will never hear me saying that all I want is to not be autistic so that my mother could be happy, I understand the pain he is expressing in that statement. Given that his extended family were killed in the Holocaust, I believe that his work writing and illustrating books that provided a positive model of life to small children was very noble indeed.
If I could say anything to the departed spirit of Maurice Sendak, it would be similar to what I imagine characters in my writings saying to one another at moments of death. Rest well, brother. And go in peace, knowing you helped to make this world better than it was when you first found it. You will be missed.
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