October 15th, 2009

Let the wild rumpus start!

The highly-anticipated film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are comes out this week. Today, the New York Times’s “Learning Network” blog posted a lesson plan titled “No More Moldy Oldies: Appreciating Classic Texts,” with suggestions for teaching Sendak’s classic, which was published in 1963. Their approach seems to indicate that today’s elementary school students need some help getting interested in the “wild rumpus,” which begs the question–will kids be interested in the film? Even if they aren’t, it’s clear that theaters will be packed with adults who remember the book fondly.

In anticipation of the movie, I’ve been thinking a lot about the particular pull of “one of the most beloved books of all time,” as the movie trailer puts it. I have been asking my friends, all in their twenties, what they remember about reading it when they were younger and whether they are excited to see the film adaptation. The results have been quite varied. My friend Nick, who is a writer and musician, says:

As a child I thought a lot about how the monsters were ferocious but not particularly scary. I was a supremely frightened child. I got anxious about things that didn’t exist, like walking dolls and gruesome corpsemen, and about things that did exist, like war and car crashes. But the wild things didn’t scare me one lick. They represent(ed) mischief rather than malice, and their world was inviting.

It’s true: in the book the wild things “roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth,” but something about their strange, wide-eyed faces and lumpy bodies renders them lovable. My friend Max, who shares a name with the book’s protagonist, remembers the way the book celebrates rebellion:

I think that’s probably the best part about the story, that although Max is portrayed as having misbehaved in the beginning, there’s never the moment where he realizes that he misbehaved and feels guilty about it and says sorry (or maybe there is–I haven’t read the book in probably ten years). He just goes on misbehaving until he tires of it, and then goes home and gets his dinner once he’s calmed down. He’s actually rewarded for his audacity in the monster world by being made king of the monsters.

Where The Wild Things Are is not a typical story for children, or even a typical fairy tale, in that it doesn’t seek to teach children anything in particular. Instead, in its few cryptic lines, it opens up a mysterious, wild world, the bulk of which has to exist in the reader’s imagination. I assume it’s this–the pull of the book on the imagination–that made Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers want to bring the book to life, to flesh out its brevity. Eggers has written a novel-length version of the book-and-now-film, called Wild Things. All of this adaptation makes me nervous, but my friends who work in film tell me to relax. Watch the trailer, below, to get yourself excited (or worried) about the movie, which comes out tomorrow.

No More Moldy Oldies: Appreciating Classic Texts [NY Times, 10/15/09]

Review: The Wild Things by Dave Eggers [Flavorwire, 10/7/09]

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