Thursday, May 10, 2012

Saying Goodbye

We went to see the movie "Where the Wild Things Are" in the theaters. We had to. Oliver was about 3 1/2 when it was released, and we went to see it around Thanksgiving.

The movie amazed me. It was powerful and moving and emotionally wrenching. And Oliver was enraptured.

Until he started sobbing.

We had only seen one other movie in a theater before then - the Fantastic Mr. Fox. I knew this one was scarier, and I had a feeling he would react in some way while we were watching. But he didn't run out of the theater when things got scary. That wasn't what happened.

What happened was that during the scene when Max said goodbye to the Wild Things and left them on their island, Oliver lost it. He started wailing. We were in a big, half-empty, cavernous theater, and his cries echoed off the walls and the ceiling. Everyone in the theater could hear it. I'll never forget it: my son, sobbing in his mother's arms, because Max left the Wild Things to go home.

I never read the book when I was a kid. My childhood was full of Richard Scarry and fairy tales and mythology. But I never read "Where the Wild Things Are" until I was an adult, reading it to my son. So I don't know what it's like to experience the book as a child.

I can say this, as an adult now: it's a peculiar book. It has depth and texture that is remarkable for a picture book, remarkable for a book that was published nearly 50 years ago. It's abstract and surreal and  pretty weird. There are pages and pages with no dialogue at all: just rumpusing, swinging from trees, running around forests, howling at the moon.

The text doesn't rhyme. There's not even a story so much as the insinuation of a story. Maybe that's what makes it so powerful: the writing is so spare and evocative that it becomes a Rorschach test. People project everything onto it, and they experience themselves when they read it.

It's a pretty weird book.

I have to respect someone with a weird vision. Maurice Sendak had a weird vision. His books featured monsters and creatures and scary humans. Kids were eaten by lions, baked into pies, chased by wild beasts. I like that. My son's best friend for years was an invisible monster named Freddy. Sendak didn't write for kids. He wrote as a kid. He understood the terrifying, inspiring, overwhelming way that children experience the world and he wrote about it. Would that we were all brave enough to write about the world in all its terror and beauty.

I never knew Maurice Sendak as a kid, but I love and appreciate his work now that I can give it to my son. I will miss having him in this world. Rest in peace. Or however you choose to rest.

No comments: