Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Good Night, Wolf Boy

One small child can imagine monsters too big and black to get into any picture, and give them names too unearthly and cacophonous to have occurred in the cries of any lunatic. The child, to begin with, commonly likes horrors, and he continues to indulge in them even when he does not like them. . . .The fear does not come from fairy tales; the fear comes from the universe of the soul. ~G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles, "The Red Angel"

And to paraphrase from that same essay with a Sendakian nod: Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of a bogey. What fairy tales give a child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of the bogey. The baby has known the wild things intimately ever since he had an imagination. What [this fairy tale] provides for him is a Max to tame all the wild things by staring into their yellow eyes without blinking once.

It would be the rare parent who has not to some degree committed to memory the smooth cadences of the text of Where the Wild Things Are.  It just flows so easily -- in the deceptively simple way of all great prose -- that a few times of reading it through will imprint it indelibly in the grey cells.  I used to have to read this book almost every day through the preschool years of two little girls.  I think I will have it (with maybe a few mistakes or mis-rememberings) memorized forever.  It is a lovely book; it is everything that a book of this sort ought to be.

I'm sure I've read and enjoyed others of his books over the years.  But, Where the Wild Things Are is such a triumph of children's literature, Maurice Sendak's eternal prominence in the genre was secured by that one offering.  And now, he is gone.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Sendak.

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