As a child, I was afraid of the dark. I still am. When I am home alone, I find myself moving more quickly past dark halls and peeking around corners. A cat looking at a shadow suddenly makes it ominous.
While most books of my childhood embraced the idea of not fearing what was under the bed or in the closet, or attempted to ingrain it to my 5-year-old brain that nothing could ever, ever be there, Maurice Sendak laughed at my fears, exploited them, colored them into 2 Dimension life and showed me how to revel in them.
Now could I merely procure a small boat, a wolf-like onesie and an impossibly tilted crown, I could join, nay, LEAD, the wild rumpus of monsters upon my small island (bed) and march them across its beaches (blanket).
As you may have heard, Mr. Sendak has passed on to his own wild rumpus as of yesterday, May 8 2012. Rather than ask who had ever been read one of his books as a child, it would be more interesting to find out who had not. Or even, who can’t read? No, please. Don’t answer that. It has been a sad enough week as it is.
I simply cannot remember a single children’s story hour at the library or school or child care center which would not have potentially had the option for hearing “Where the Wild Things Are.” If your reader was edgy enough, they might even have a monster voice or two to lend for effect.
Even if the “read to me” choice was un-Democratic (that’s right, sometimes it was always time for Mother Goose. That wench), you could probably tune out Miss Marple up there and stare longingly at one of Mr. Sendak’s Monstrous creations in poster form on the wall.
There are other creations from him; “Pierre” [my family hated it when I took up his refrain],”Higglety-Piggelty-Pop,” “In the Night Kitchen,” [banned often for nudity, however, what child didn’t decide it was naked time here and there?], “Outside, Over There,” these are only a few.
However, “Wild Things” I think may have had the longest lasting impact. Childhood is filled with fear. Some more than others. What if my parents disappear? What if I’m all alone? What if I get lost? Have you ever seen a crying child alone in a store who doesn’t know mom is only looking at the bread? Do you remember how you felt when that was you?
For a time, “Wild Things” helped with my cowering fear of the dark.
I am now, merely skittish.
My book still rests on my tiny shelf, in my childhood bedroom, waiting to be passed on to another generation of wild, rumpusing children. Those children will sometimes have fear, those children will have bad dreams and no matter what, there are always the “What if’s” that sometimes need a little reassurance.
So thank you Mr. Sendack, you strange old man.
Thank you for the darkness.