May 8, 2012

Mischief Of One Kind And Then Another

To me, it was always a part of the universe--though in childish narcissism I assumed it was written for my generation--but I can't imagine how breathtakingly odd Where The Wild Things Are must have seemed on its release in 1963. I am reminded of the sweet naivete of children's books that came into my life after my mother and aunt had grown up with them, like Manners For Moppets, an etiquette guide for the knee-socks set. ("It gives me great pleasure to pass you the salt" is still a bit of a family punchline.)

There is sweetness in Sendak's work, but it is rich and complex and distilled from rougher stuff; it is molasses in a sea of aspartame tablets. There are glories in the art and the text; few of them rise from what you might think of as comfort. The world and its possibilities; adventure, yes, but danger and separation and darkness... we "sail off through night and day and in and out of weeks," armed with curiosity and love, clad in a funny suit with which to blend in with the bewildering creatures we encounter.

Maurice Sendak perceived and expressed, in the most singular way, the complexity of our strange and crosshatched world.

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In a less navel-gazing vein, here's Sendak's appearance on The Colbert Report a few months back. He was extremely Sendakian to the very end.