The Home Front

Where the Wild Things Are and a Longing for Home

The author at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia.

Almost everyone has read Where the Wild Things Are. By now, its images are a part of our collective consciences — icons of childhood — and its plot is easy to recite. Mischievous Max talks back to his mother (who calls him “wild thing”) by yelling, “I’ll eat you up!” He’s promptly sent to bed without dinner. In his room, he wears a wolf costume and imagines he’s king of the jungle. His room metamorphoses from a bedroom to a forest and into an ocean. On it, he braves dragons to reach the island of the wild things. After his adventure, of course, he returns home to find a dinner sitting on his bedside table — a sign of his mother’s love.

I never read my kids the book until we went to the old Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, which had a nice exhibit of several of his works. The Where the Wild Things Are play area had Max’s bed, a red boat, a jungle made of vines, and “wild rumpus” sound effects. This allowed my kids to act out his books before they read them.

When I finally bought the book and snuggled down to read it to them, however, it made them sad. It always made me sad too. Upon the death of Maurice Sendak, many people have reignited some of the discussion around the famed author’s most famous book and the different emotions it seemed to evoke. The Washington Post obituary provides a clue why the Brooklyn-born Jew might have produced books “darker” than other kids’ stories:

“The Holocaust has run like a river of blood through all my books,” Mr. Sendak once said, explaining that as the child of Jewish immigrants from Poland, the Nazi death camps were never far from his mind.

Yesterday, a southern pastor’s wife, Jill Joiner, reflects on this popular work, with an interesting take:

Many adults and children have expressed sadness after reading this book, perhaps because it is so true to the human experience. People are inclined to chase autonomy, power, and self-reliance only to find themselves lonely and stuck on self-created islands. For me, it created a different sort of emotion, more along the line of an unfulfilled longing.

At the conclusion of the story — the simple image of the loving dinner sitting on the bedside table, evidence of a gracious and loving parent — is not enough. It is an incomplete picture of reconciliation, without the complete abandoning love of the Father lifting his clothes, running to embrace the Prodigal Son. As the stubborn, autonomy-loving fool that I am — I need the story to end differently. I need more than the reminder of love and forgiveness — I want to be with my love.

Read it all here.

Though many words have been spilled about his books — evaluating them, analyzing them, and critiquing them — we know his legacy will live on as we continue to debate why that dinner on the bedside table is such a punch in the gut, every time.

Did you like Where the Wild Things Are as a kid and did your feelings change as you got older?

Nancy FrenchNancy French is a three-time New York Times best-selling author and a longtime contributor to National Review Online.

Most Popular

Elections

An Election Too Important to Be Left to Voters

The Democrats believe that the 2020 election is too important to be left to the voters. It’s obvious that President Donald Trump withheld defense aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to commit to the investigations that he wanted, an improper use of his power that should rightly be the focus of ... Read More
Elections

An Election Too Important to Be Left to Voters

The Democrats believe that the 2020 election is too important to be left to the voters. It’s obvious that President Donald Trump withheld defense aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to commit to the investigations that he wanted, an improper use of his power that should rightly be the focus of ... Read More
Film & TV

A Film for All Christians

‘The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts,” wrote George Eliot in Middlemarch, “and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” The passage provides the title ... Read More
Film & TV

A Film for All Christians

‘The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts,” wrote George Eliot in Middlemarch, “and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” The passage provides the title ... Read More
Film & TV

A Feeble Fox News Attack at the Movies

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Oscar-winning talents to rip the lid off the scandal at NBC News, whose bosses still have suffered no repercussions for their part in the Harvey Weinstein matter and other sleazy deeds — but at least Hollywood has finally let us know how they feel about Fox News ... Read More
Film & TV

A Feeble Fox News Attack at the Movies

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Oscar-winning talents to rip the lid off the scandal at NBC News, whose bosses still have suffered no repercussions for their part in the Harvey Weinstein matter and other sleazy deeds — but at least Hollywood has finally let us know how they feel about Fox News ... Read More