3 Things I Learned From “Where the Wild Things Are”

“I said anything I wanted because I don’t believe in children.
I don’t believe in childhood. I don’t believe that there’s a demarcation.
‘Oh you mustn’t tell them that. You mustn’t tell them that.’
You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it’s true.
If it’s true you tell them.”  – Maurice Sendak

I woke up this morning to Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition telling me that Maurice Sendak had passed away. Immediately I felt an unexpected, and perhaps unwarranted, bit of sadness. Where the Wild Things Are was, hands down, my favorite book growing up. I wanted it read every night. I learned to read with that book only because I had it memorized and could see what the different words looked like on a page.

As I’ve spent the morning thinking about it, I think I felt so sad because the person who created something so sacred and meaningful for me is gone. And that sucks. But, luckily for everyone who will ever live and read from now to eternity, the books survive even though the author does not.

So here are three of the many lessons I learned from Maurice Sendak, via Max and the Wild Things.

1) A good imagination is one of the most important things in the world.

This is one I still think about on at least a weekly basis. The importance of imagination cannot be overlooked. All of these events — the island, the wild things, the rumpus — took place within Max’s imagination. That kind of imagination can move mountains. Imagination is the source of all invention and innovation. I’m typing this on my Macbook, which wouldn’t exist, if not for an incredible imagination. Imagination is the power that enables us to empathize with humans — or wild things — whose experiences we have never shared. Imagination is essential for our survival.

2) Even the brave and courageous need love too.

I remember thinking how awesome it was when Max looked the Wild Things straight in their eyes and didn’t blink once. That’s the kind of guy I wanted to be. One who didn’t need anyone, but could stare monsters in the face and not blink. But then, when I was reading this to a pre-schooler while I was in college, a different part stuck out to me. “And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” Even though I fell into the trap of thinking I could be an island, there’s still something missing if you are a king, but have no one with whom you can give and receive love.

3) At the bridge between childhood and adulthood, the best thing you can say is, “Let the wild rumpus start!”

My mom used to always let me say this part when we were reading this through as a kid. When I heard the page leading up to it I would stand up on my bed in anxious anticipation. (Keep in mind this was when I was around 4. This wasn’t last year or anything.) And when those words “‘And now’, cried Max” came out, I would throw both hands in the air and look at the ceiling and yell “Let the wild rumpus start!” Believe me, it was awesome.

When I was standing with my brother getting ready to walk down the aisle at my wedding last summer, we looked at each other and I said, “Well, let the wild rumpus start,” and headed down the aisle. I think it’s one of the best attitudes you can have. Yeah, things will always be a little crazy and won’t be 100% controllable. Some things will go well and some things won’t. But jumping in with both feet is the only way to go.

So, even though it’s with a bit of sadness that I write this today, the news that Maurice Sendak has died is eclipsed by better news than we could ever want: Maurice Sendak lived.

Cheers,
Eric

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Comments

  1. great reflection, eric. i had (somehow) never read Wild Things until the movie was coming out, which was around the time my first niece was born. i went to a bookstore to read it, instantly deciding to buy it for her only to realize it’d be a while before she was ready for it. she’s now three and a half and i’m still not sure when she’ll be ready, but whenever that day comes you can be sure i’m excited to let the wild rumpus to start!

    • Thanks, Andy. It can be pretty dark. The darkness of it didn’t hit when I was a kid. But I can definitely see it. It’s my go-to present for when friends have babies — to use at their discretion. But every kid needs it on their bookshelf.

  2. This was a lovely post. And I couldn’t agree more with the things he taught you, and all of us, really. I loved this.

  3. Shana led me here, and I’m so thankful. What a wonderful tribute to all I think Maurice Sendak was. And it came at a time I needed it personally. So, as I face my next monster, I shall look him in the eye and yell, “Let the wild rumpus start!” Thank you!

    • You’re very welcome. Thanks for leaving your comment. It can be hard to look monsters in the eye, but it’s very heartening to be assured of such a courageous message. “Let the wild rumpus start!”

Please keep your comments positive. I reserve the right to delete rude or insulting comments. If your comment is critical, please make sure it is also constructive. Thank you.

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