Taming Wild Things; Where Sendak's Wild Things Came From, by Pippa Goodhart


For this post I am simply going to quote Maurice Sendak from his acceptance speech given to the American Library Association in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1964, in which he answers the question, ‘Where did you ever get such a crazy, scary idea for book’, referring to his, then recently published picture book, Where The Wild Things Are. 

Where The Wild Things Are is a simple book in terms of the word count and plot, but, my goodness it carries a rich heavy load of story, and it’s fascinating to glimpse where that emotional depth and insight comes from - 


‘During my early teens I spent hundreds of hours sitting at my window, sketching neighborhood children at play. I sketched and listened, and those notebooks became the fertile field of my work later on. There is not a book I have written or a picture I have drawn that does not, in some way, owe them its existence. Last fall, soon after finishing Where The Wild Things Are, I sat on the front porch of my parents’ house in Brooklyn and witnessed a scene that could have been a page from one of those early notebooks. I might have titled it ‘Arnold the Monster.’

            Arnold was a tubby, pleasant-faced little boy who could instantly turn himself into a howling, groaning, hunched horror – a composite of Frankenstein’s monster, the Werewolf, and Godzilla. His willing victims were four giggling little girls, whom he chased frantically around parked automobiles and up and down front steps. The girls would fee, hiccupping and shrieking, ‘Oh, help! Save me! The monster will eat me!’ And Arnold would lumber after them, rolling his eyes and bellowing. The noise was earsplitting, the proceedings were fascinating.

            At one point, carried away by his frenzy, Arnold broke an unwritten rule of such games. He actually caught one of his victims. She was furious. ‘You’re not supposed to catch me, dope,’ she said, and smacked Arnold. He meekly apologized, and a moment later this same little girl dashed away screaming the game song: ‘Oh, help! Save me!’ etc. The children became hot and mussed-looking. They had the glittery look of primitive creatures going through a ritual dance. 

            The game ended in a collapse of exhaustion. Arnold dragged himself away, and the girls went off with a look of sweet peace on their faces. A mysterious inner battle had been played out, and their minds and bodies were at rest, for the moment.

            I have watched children play many variations of this game. They are the necessary games children must conjure up to combat an awful fact of childhood: the fact of their vulnerability to fear, anger, hate, frustration – all the emotions that are an ordinary part of their lives and that they can perceive only as ungovernable and dangerous forces. To master these forces, children turn to fantasy: that imaged world where disturbing emotional situations are solved to their satisfaction. Through fantasy, Max, the hero of my book, discharges his anger against his mother, and returns to the real world sleepy, hungry, and at peace with himself. 


            Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences. That is obvious. But what is just as obvious – and what is too often overlooked – is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, that fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, that they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things. 

            It is my involvement with this inescapable fact of childhood – the awful vulnerability of children and their struggle to make themselves King of All Wild Things – that gives my work whatever truth and passion it may have.’


            There is more, equally interesting, but, to read it you’ll need to get hold of a copy of Caldecott & Co. by Maurice Sendak.

Post a Comment

* Please Don't Spam Here. All the Comments are Reviewed by Admin.