Where the Wild Things Are
One of the joys of reading books is just letting your mind float as you read and just wander from association to association. As often as not, maybe more often than not, you find yourself resonating on some level with a theme that others find important, too.
Lucy Rollin wrote a wonderful essay called Childhood Fantasies and Frustrations in Maurice Sendak’s Picture Books, published in Psychoanalytic Responses to Children’s Literature by Rollin and West, McFarland, 1999. Her take on Where the Wild Things Are is elegant, and very close to where I ended up . . . though she pointed out a couple of things I’d missed in my reading, and reminded me of how wonderful In the Night Kitchen and Outside Over There are, as well, though less often read.
The night Max wore his wolf suit/ and made mischief of one kind/ and another/ his mother called him “wild thing.”
I quote from memories of reading the book over and over again to (especially) my two oldest wild things, so if there are errors, they are errors that were honestly reworked by my own subconscious and are likely important to me. Max is perhaps 4 years old, and is experiencing the anger and frustrations of a child trying to follow the rules and unable to oppose his own impulses. He wants mastery–over his own urges and over his environment and even over his mother: “I’ll eat you up!”
So his mother sent him to bed without his supper. And in his bedroom we see a crude drawing of one of the wild things we’ll find on the island, drawn by Max.
Max, in his wolf suit, feels like what his mother calls him, a wild thing. He feels overwhelmed by his aggressive impulses and creates a fantasy place far enough away (in and out of weeks and almost over a year) to put the creatures where they can’t harm anyone but him. And no mistaking it: they are his creatures matching the drawing in his bedroom that clearly says “by Max”. But the creatures are much larger than Max, as he must feel his aggression mainly toward his mother is overwhelming and huge.
Still, the key reason Max creates the fantasy is that he’s overwhelmed by his own aggressive feelings and needs to put them outside of himself, and needs to master them. He tames them “with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once.” As Lucy Rollin points out: “This is the key notion in the book: mastery . . . Max is in power, having projected and then conquered his own aggression.”
As Max becomes king of all the wild things the art work expands to fill both pages, and there are no words for the wild rumpus, which I’ve heard called “the most touched pages in literature.”
Rollin also calls special attention to the wild thing that looks like a bull, but I’ll talk more about that when we get to the movie.
Max then interprets his own aggressive statement toward his mother, as one of the wild things tells him when he’s leaving the island “. . .We’ll eat you up, we love you so.”
I think my dinner is waiting for me. And it’s still hot.
Filed under: General Thoughts, kidlit, What's it all mean, Why do kids love it | 1 Comment
Tags: Lucy Rollin, Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are