In one of our classes, we’re about a third of the way through Dave Eggers’s novelization of Spike Jonze’s film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story, Where the Wild Things Are. Most Americans under the age of forty or so can probably recall watching an earlier, animated adaptation of Sendak’s book. If you’re on the older end of that spectrum, perhaps it was a film strip shown in your primary school’s library or media room. It might have been a VHS cassette or DVD played on a cart-mounted television inside your classroom if you’re a bit younger.
The children’s book begat the film (which hit theaters in 2009 after a long and, at times, tumultuous production) and the film begat the novel … and what a novel it is! The protagonist, Max, is the lonely and very imaginative youngest member of a family in transition. In both the novel and the film, his loneliness is hitting him from all directions — his parents have split up (it’s made clear in Eggers’s book that both of them are now dating new people), his mother (the custodial parent) is preoccupied with workplace drama, his sister is a surly teenager with absolutely no interest in her kid brother, and there aren’t many children in the neighborhood where he lives.
Max hasn’t stopped reaching out, but his efforts at interacting with those around him always seem to backfire, both in the real world and on the island where the Wild Things of the books’ and film’s title live. To the degree that you empathize with Max, some portions of the book can at times be painful to read. He struggles to orient himself within the web of the Wild Things’ interpersonal relationships in exactly the same ways that he has trouble getting along with his family and the people whom he encounters at school and in his neighborhood. Just when it seems that he’s found his footing and been accepted and valued, something happens to bring it all crashing down around him.
The photo at the top of this entry features a DVD of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, a copy of Dave Eggers’s The Wild Things (the McSweeney’s fur-covered edition we’re using is now sold out at Amazon and other outlets and is available only from third-party sellers) and two plushies from the film’s merchandizing push: Max and the Bull. In the title of this post, we’re referencing an exchange that takes place, in both the film and book, between Max and his mother shortly before his spur-of-the-moment journey to the island of the Wild Things.