R.I.P. Maurice Sendak (1928-2012).
I had the immense honor of interviewing Mr. Sendak at his home in Connecticut back in 2009. (Part one is here; part two is here.) Above is our family Max doll, which I asked him and Spike Jonze to sign. Below, some excerpts from our talk:
What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?
Sendak: I would tell them to go to hell. That’s a question I will not tolerate.
Because kids can handle it?
Sendak: If they can’t handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it’s not a question that can be answered.
Why write about death in a children’s story?
Sendak: Well, it’s a great subject. There’s a lot of charm to it. I remember when we did Hansel and Gretel, the opera. All of the kids are out in the open, unprotected from the weather, and so we had one of the little girls die. And the opera people and everybody was: “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s Hansel and Gretel.” But I said: “Hansel and Gretel is one of the scariest stories ever written! Psychotic mother; stupid, inane father. What the hell are you talking about? Of course there’s going to be somebody dead in it.” After the show, the kids came backstage and they wanted the autograph of the dead girl. [laughter] Like, I was just like chopped liver, they walked right past me. “Where’s the dead girl?”
There’s something in that, though—danger and rebellion are the things that are thrilling to you when you’re a kid.
Sendak: Kids are barbaric. They really have to be. They don’t know what it is to be polite or nice. There is a toughness to being a child. Childhood is a very tough time. I always had a deep respect for children and how they solve complex problems by themselves.
How did this translate when you sat down to write and illustrate Wild Things?
Sendak: Well, Max and his mother - it’s not that good a relationship. But it’s really what a lot of relationships are like between children and parents. A lot of yelling and losing of one’s temper and throwing of things, and then you’re sorry you did it. I’ve always been interested in how children maneuver and figure out how to live.
Jonze: And how do they?
Sendak: Cleverness, shrewdness, fantasy, and just plain strength. They want to survive. The kids in Hansel and Gretel¬ she is the heroine, she saves her brother’s life. Little girl saving a little boy’s life - when do children have to confront such terrible ordeals? But they do! They do.
It seems like so many classic children’s stories are about becoming untethered: being orphaned, losing parents. And they capture both sides: the fun and the freedom of that, but also the anxiety of being on your own.
Sendak: In the early part of the century—19th century, 20th century—it was very common that children were orphans. Popular works like The Secret Garden immediately start with the death of the parents, and how she has to cope without a mother and a father and make life work for her in the secret garden. That always seemed to be the most critical test that a child was confronted with - loss of parents, loss of direction, loss of love. And I think they were good - The Secret Garden had a terrific effect on me when I read it as a young person. Can you live without a mother and a father? Well, she does - she makes out well. She makes out too well. She makes out sentimentally well. So I went a step further. Let’s tell the truth. Let’s talk about the kid who doesn’t make it sensationally well. Let’s talk about the struggles and the fights.
He was one of the greats.
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- dareenandreu said: He is indeed one of the best.
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