Wrapping up the Wild Things
When we last saw Max and the wild things Max had been reborn from K.W.’s mouth, and though we’ve skipped around and picked out only the Max/Carol/K.W. story line it’s been enough to see clearly who Carol and K. W. represent in Max’s fantasy, and to get a feel for the ambiguous characters Bob and Terry, the owls that Carol blames for competing with him for K.W.’s affection.
Max admits that he is not king, and tries to do magic, which seems to bring some flakes of snow, or perhaps just ashes from the fire. He cannot find Carol, only crushed remnants of his model of what he wants his island to be, and takes the twigs and makes a heart in the dirt as an offering.
The wild things escort him to his boat and Carol, who finds the message in the cave, races to get there to see him off. And Bernard, the ambiguous, vaguely threatening bull creature, does say goodby–(we’ll eat you up, we love you so). My speculation, and there’s not really enough there to say for sure, but I think that in both the book and the film that he represents the unequivocally male figure in Max’s life that is mostly on the sidelines, only seen occasionally but felt acutely, even if only by his absence: Max’s father.
The wild things, finally united on beach as Max is leaving, have a last howl, lamenting Max’s departure from the fantasy and return to his mother, now with some understanding of his own feelings (and hers) if not the unambiguous mastery that he attained in the book. Max, too, howls.
He sails back through the ocean, runs through the neighborhood into his house, where the remainder of the film is essentially wordless as Max eats soup and chocolate cake with his mother watching him, smiling, benevolent.
Then she falls asleep as he watches, mirroring his wished-for mothering and the mothering that she was able to give him after his return.
Odds and ends:
Sendak, throughout his career has been devoted to giving voice to the real fears and frustrations of real children. His books, therefore, are often controversial and he is a fixture on the ALA’s banned and challenged book lists. In fact, he was still one of the most frequently banned and challenged authors as late as 2004.
You should know that Where the Wild Things Are started out life as The Island of the Wild Horses. It may be apocryphal, but the story goes that his editor asked him to change it because she didn’t like the way he drew the horses. He instead used monsters which were character studies of his uncles and aunts.
Finally, there is some synergy in the universe. Sendak illustrated The Juniper Tree in a collection of translated fairy tales. I don’t have a copy of his illustrations, and if someone could point me toward them I’d love it.
Filed under: kidlit, Movies, What's it all mean | 4 Comments
Tags: Maurice Sendak, Monsters, Movies, Where the Wild Things Are