Friday, July 19, 2013

Where the Wild Things Are: From Turning a Page to a Motion Picture

by Ryan Rooney

Read to children across the world, turned into movies, and regarded as one of the best children’s books ever written, here at the Clarke we are very fortunate to have a signed first edition, second issue copy of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963). With the Caldecott Medal seal on the front and Sendak's signature on the title page, the book is a part of our children's literature collection that truly stands out as unique.

The story of Max, proudly dressed in his wolf costume, scolded by his mother and sent to bed without supper only to eventually become the King of the “Wild Things,” has been shared for nearly half of a century. However, the development of the art work and later creations of the film truly add a new dimension to the relevance of the book. It is said that the original plot of the book was for Max to escape to the “land of wild horses” after being scolded by his mother. The term “Wild Things” was used after Sendak realized he could not draw horses. As the idea of the “Wild Things” grew, Sendak adapted caricatures of his aunts and uncles to add personality to the creatures.

The personality of these caricatures later helped create the creatures in the Weston Wood Studios animated short film released in 1974. In a recent acquisition, the Clarke has received a copy of John Cech’s Imagination and Innovation: The Story of Weston Woods in which one can read all of the ways in which Weston Woods was able to successfully create the most famous of children’s books into animated films. However, a director Gene Deitch implies, Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are presented a challenge that was unlike any other. With the visionary cross hatching techniques used by Sendak in the original drawings, the struggle to create the motions of the characters and remain true to the original appearance led to Deitch referring to the book as “the Mount Everest of children’s books!”

Ultimately, Weston Wood Studios and Director Gene Deitch were successful in the production of the animated short. With respect to Sendak’s requests to “go beyond the book” and gentle reminders that “everything is Max,” the original film opened the door for many more future adaptations. To date, the children’s book has been re-made into the 1988 animated short with an updated soundtrack, it has inspired music compositions and art work, and has become a major motion picture directed by Spike Jonze in 2009.

In 40 pages and 338 words, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is one of the most influential pieces of children’s literature of the 20th century. Some critics’ comments view the book as a testimony to the mastery of emotion and need for parental love speaking to an underlying meaning of the text. However, simply put by the 2009 film, the book brings to life that “there is a Wild Thing in all of us."