Tuesday, May 8th, 2012
This week the author of Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, passed away at age 83. To say his classic and most famous story is my favorite and most influential children’s book is no stretch of the imagination.
For Halloween last October, my son Jack was a sea otter thanks to that costume selling for 9 bucks on Amazon.com. But really, I hoped everyone would be reminded of the wolf costume that the protagonist Max wore in the book.
I remember that day in 1st grade back in 1987 during our weekly library hour, how Mrs. Mauldin read Where the Wild Things Are to our class for the first time.
Why was I so mesmerized by this weird and dark book about a boy and his monsters?
Somehow, part of it didn’t feel like a kids’ book. There was something almost PG-13 about it; though I couldn’t have known why at the time.
Now as a nostalgic 31 year-old dad who is ever-curious about the human subconscious, I see that Where the Wild Things Are allowed a child to experience (and experiment with) loneliness up until the final page of the story.
Up until the very end, Max banishes himself to a sort of forgotten hell in which he takes charge.
I get it now. What kid doesn’t feel left out of the “grown-up world” at times, wishing to be important enough to be in charge the way his or her parents are?
Through this bizarre and yet very realistic story, a child relates.
Today I saw I quote by Storm Jameson which best summarizes why Sendak’s beloved story is so special:
“Happiness comes of the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think freely, to risk life, to be needed.”
Interestingly, the protagonist (and the reader) of Where the Wild Things Are experiences all these things in the story. I never thought of happiness as anything less than perceived joy.
But this new definition makes a lot more sense. And surely Maurice Sendak knew this when he penned the book.
He subliminally introduced real happiness to me through his adventurous story.
Like Max, I must feel deeply, think freely, risk life, and be needed. That is indeed what makes me happy.
And if I can dress funny and howl and dance in the forest with monsters in the process… even better.
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