Why Maurice Sendak's stories were so scary (+video)
Maurice Sendak's imaginative children's books, honored on Monday with a Google doodle, let children go 'where the wild things are.'
Fifty years ago, a little boy watched as his safe, reassuring bedroom grow into a jungle home to beasts more unruly than he was ā the kinds of beings that āroared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.ā
That boy was Max, the misbehaved protagonist of Maurice Sendakās 'Where The Wild Things Are,' the 1963 childrenās book that revolutionized the genre to include not just sugar and spice and all things nice but all the nightmares that childrenās authors had once left to the grown-ups' world.
Maurice Sendak, who died last May, would have celebrated his 85th birthday Monday. His lifeās work is being honored in a Google Doodle that sketches out his otherworldly creatures, un-childlike fangs and claws and all.
Mr. Sendak, whose much-lauded work was sometimes banned for its unsanitized take on the childrenās genre, did not believe in childhood ā at least not childhood in the way in which it is conventionally talked about, glossed in nursery-appropriate hues.
āIn the discussion of children, and the lives of children, and the fantasies of children, and the language of children, I said anything I wanted, because I donāt believe in children,ā he said, in the documentary, 'Tell Them Anything You Want.' āI donāt believe in childhood. I donāt believe thereās a demarcation of āyou mustnāt tell them this, you mustnāt tell them that.ā You tell them anything you want.ā
āJust tell them if itās true. If itās true, you tell them,ā he said.
So Sendakās stories are truthful, telling tales of a world that is not always kind or fair or good. Max, perhaps Sendakās most famous character for his romp into a very un-Disney like world of monsters, is not the princely hero of the classic fairy tale, and he does not belong to a traditional, obviously moral tale. Maxās mastery of the riotous Wild Things, and his decision to leave the imaginative place behind and return home to the warm meal he had been sent to bed without, is ambiguously moral. Much as we wish for it, it does not deliver a neat aphorism to guide us in tough ethical times. That, perhaps, is part of the point.
Sendakās work makes demands on the child's moral life, introducing his youthful readers to worlds where things are not painted in blacks and whites, where a flexible mind and a little bit of exploration is necessary to come up with ethical answers. His are books that free up the childās imagination, that allow it to go wandering into all its sublime, sometimes nightmarish corridors. That, after all, is where the Wild Things are.