On Wild Things

May 8, 2012

It’s hard to understand, I think, just how revolutionary Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are must have been. When he wrote it, children’s books, and especially books for younger children, really didn’t recognize, much less explore and lavishly, cunningly illustrate fierce emotions like anger. What Sendak knew, and showed us so well, was that every child (and every one of us) is part wild thing, gnashing teeth and uncontainable rages, desires bigger than our common sense.

I think of how parenting has changed, just in my lifetime, and I marvel at how well Sendak captured the inner life of my toddler, whose passions are often much larger than her body, whose need for a rumpus is often so strong it overrides her new-found knowledge of the importance of rules, who tells me daily, “I’m going to eat you up. Chomp!”

And then I marvel at how much I am like Dot, only with my wilder feelings (mostly) under wraps. I wonder if my daughter, raised with so much more acknowledgement of the importance of her passions, anger, sadness – all those feelings that I was encouraged to squelch, to overcome, to keep from putting on display – will have an easier time with her adult emotions. I suspect she will. And Sendak is part of that. Which is just amazing to me, the power of words and art, the power of books, to make us face our own wild things. To make us realize that they’re important.

I know that people will be writing all over the web today of what Sendak meant to them, taught them. Mel has a lovely post about Sendak’s works over at Stirrup Queens that is worth a read, for example. But I’ll go on record as saying that this was his most powerful lesson, that we are all wild things and that we need to know that and value that and find some outlet for our wildness in order to really come home and eat our warm suppers.

I am grateful to him for pushing the envelope, always. For the nakedness of Mickey in the night kitchen that made the story more powerful (and also brought on several Dot giggles), for giving us images of children who looked like children. For giving those children adventures that highlighted the value of imagination, laughter, bravery, and honored all the emotions, even the dark ones.

Thank you Maurice. I hope the Rumpus is especially wild, wherever you are.

One comment

  1. Such a great loss. I should pull this one out and read it to Angus more often. Fond memories of my own childhood, for sure.

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