Wild Things with Baby Faces, part 1.

9 Oct

1.

Where the Wild Things Are is a slight book, slender, barely 40 pages, with a total word count of some 330 words. Upon publication, it won the top award in the field. The book was and is immensely popular, a best-selling children’s title for the last 40 years. The iconography of the book as well as its language has burrowed its way into the foundations of popular culture, culminating in a big budget film adaptation, as well as an opera.

The book is a gigantic success story, a constant in libraries, and a beloved favorite of both adults and children. In a word, it’s a classic.

They even made action figures.

The question is, why?

Max, the main character, is the only named character in the book. He is a narcissistic, violent little kid with no impulse control. He chases the dog. He yells as his mother, who remains unseen. The monsters, although differentiated from each other by beaks, wings, or strange claws, all resemble each other and act in a uniform manner. The message of the book is unclear; the book seems to be an argument for the power of imagination, but at the end of the book, Max appears to have learned something, it just isn’t clear what.

But this story of a budding sociopath and his imaginary monsters comes across as a warm, loving paean to childhood, families, and imagination.

This contradiction lies at the heart of the book.

I’m going to take three different looks at Sendak’s masterpiece—I’ve adapted this series of blog entries from a graduate school paper; I needed a break from writing about politics and have numerous essays and pieces in progress— first through the eyes of Scott McCloud, a pioneering sequential arts thinker and creator; then through Molly Bangs, a children’s book artist; and finally through the prism of Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth. Taken together, the three reads of the book offer some insight into how it works, and why it’s remained so popular over the years.

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One Response to “Wild Things with Baby Faces, part 1.”

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  1. The Taste of Others, part 6: Overrated? « simoneandthesilversurfer - November 30, 2012

    […] just enough ambiguity to make it intriguing. (I wrote multiple entries on it. Read the first part here.) Yet, even Where the Wild Things Are isn’t immune to these mean-spirited one-star reviews. Some […]

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