Tuesday, May 08, 2012

RIP Maurice Sendak

This wild thing, for one, feels sad today.

One thing I loved about Maurice Sendak was that he aware that childhood has a dark and scary side, which shouldn't be suppressed. His books were often attacked by adults who would prefer that children would be innocent and pure, even though they're not. As Sendak himself said, "Children know everything." But children themselves loved him, for understanding them better than most adults, for knowing their terrors and nightmares and silly playful joys alike. It's another example of the critics being moralizing and clueless about an author, while the author's readers understood far better what was really going on. I know plenty of sane, mature adults who recall fondly their childhood encounters with Sendak's books. So where was the harm?

When I was an adult myself, working in a publishing company, I had access to many children's books that I had missed as a child, since I grew up in another country. A lot of classic children's books that many of my peers recalled fondly I had never heard of. But I knew about Sendak. One of the first children's books I bought for myself while working in book publishing was Where The Wild Things Are. (Probably the second one I bought for myself was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz.) The wild things still speak to all of us: the book has never in fifty years been out of print. (Speaking as someone who has run press and pre-press, I stagger at thinking how many times the printing plates have had to be remade during that tenure.)

That wildness is still in us. We often try to deny or suppress it, to make it conform to some manicured suburban ideal, but it pops up relentlessly. Better to embrace it, to have a bad day, to go howl at the moon and trees, then resume our routine. Wildness is necessary. It's part of us, and we deny it at our peril. It's the deniers who end up dancing the insane tarantella of repression and obsession.

Of course Wild Things is only the most famous of Sendak's many books, illustrations, and designs. I enjoyed his art whenever and wherever I encountered it.

A couple of essay assessments available online (hat tip to Frank Wilson and Dave Lull):

NY Times article

Bloomberg article

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