There was a sadness in our hearts last week when news of author and illustrator Maurice Sendak passed away on May 8th. The amount of Mirth, Imagination and the Wild-ness in the world dipped considerably as we were reminded of what an influence Sendak was on us during our early, raw years of childhood. I don't remember what age I was at when I was given my copy of Where the Wild Things Are, but I remember being struck by the feeling of a story being told to me, not at me. It was a story that embraced the notion of chaos, that as a child, you're constantly fighting against a primal need to act-out, be loud, be a Wild Thing. In Sendak's story of Max, the unruly child who refuses the world of Grown-Ups and their Must-do's, the tale became child's dream come true, to take a dangerous adventure to a savage place populated with Chimera-like creatures as powerful as they were riddled with child-like emotion. Despite their strenghth and size, a stern word or an attitude of authority could sway their devotion, much like Max. Much like all of us at that age, and maybe still as we sit in our Grown-Up world of Must-do's, wishing for something simpler.
Sendak's work was sophisticated and pristine. It had universal appeal because it spoke to our emotional core, having the potential to evolve and never leave us. As children, we had a rare ally. As adults, his work reminds us why it's important to live and love with savage honesty, to never allow our hearts to be compromised. It was with eerie portence that the film version of Where the Wild Things Are happened to be on television the week before he passed away. It was appropriate that the Peter Pan-like Spike Jonze would bring the story to the big screen. I honestly can't explain what I think of it, or if I even liked the movie. It had a lot of the surface ideas of the book: the darkness of reality to children, an emotional presence as delicate as a spiderweb but oddly resiliant as iron. I think it was more Wild than anything else, but I missed the sense of self-realization, that a love of bonfire rumpuses, fort-building and dirt clod fights with mercurial rules isn't real love. Love is more complex than that; contrary and inscrutable at times, but always with open, awaiting arms. The return to one's own room, with supper still hot, in a place where one is loved best.
Sendak once said, "I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more." It perfectly captures his possessive sense of love, much like that of a child. When something is good, when you are safe, happy and cared for, why would you ever want to leave that? Time is cruel. It separates us from our heart's content and there's no way to explain that. And now, as we mourn Sendak, missing him, unable to stop him from leaving us, we gather up our childhood memories and depart from our Grown-Up world for a spell, if only to dance by the bonfire with old friends under a full moon for a long overdue Wild Rumpus. With teeth and claws. With snarls and howls. To be Wild again and celebrate a tender soul who introduced Fear to us, so that we may become Fearless.
Jaunty Fine Print: Illustration by Denise Sakaki, words and inspiration by Maurice Sendak