“Outside Over There” Image from loqueesesencial.wordpress.com
I’ve had a strange feeling all day since learning that Maurice Sendak died this morning. There are many odes to him on the internet and in the traditional press too, not the least interesting of which is his 2 part interview with Colbert from a couple months ago. But the best one I’ve found was actually an illustrated conversation he had with…who else?… Art Speigelman.
Cartoon Spiegelman and Cartoon Sendak are walking through the woods, which of course are pages from Sendak’s books. Sendak has just published “We Are All In the Dumps With Jack and Guy,” a book that we own and that I found fascinating and disturbing as a child, but probably not as disturbing as I would find it now. It was not as beloved as “Where the Wild Things Are” or “Mickey In the Night Kitchen” nor as visceral a sense-memory as “Outside Over There,” but I do remember a page where Jack and Guy are running through the rye. And when I read “Catcher In the Rye” years later, that’s what I imagined that Holden Caulfield was imagining, catching kids in the rye.
In an interview the late Maurice Sendak did with Terry Gross that was recently replayed, he describes responding to a memorable fan letter. A boy named Jim was so impressed with “Wild Things” that he drew his own and sent it to Maurice Sendak to say it was his favorite book. Duly touched, Sendak replied to the fan letter by drawing a Wild Thing on a postcard, just for Jim. Soon after, Sendak received a letter from the boy’s mother saying “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” To Sendak, this was “one of the highest compliments I ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it. He loved it. He ate it.”
To love something so much that you need to eat it, to gobble it up so that it can be part of you, is an idea so perfect (and bizarre and possibly Freudian) that it lives in the land of the Wild Things and the land of Over There. And who wouldn’t want to eat Mickey’s cookie airplane as it crumbles in the milk? I felt so strange upon hearing this news today– a sad but sisterly nostalgia to the delight of meeting the real Winnie the Pooh— that it can only mean one thing: that I had eaten Sendak’s books so long ago, in that Wild Thing state of childhood, that they were a part of me.
And I suddenly remembered sitting in a musty library in Clinton, New York. That tiny library with the creaky floors in the children section. I was sitting on one of those stools for reaching higher books. We have the same stools at my library now, in fact. And I was reading about Ida with her trumpet, saving her baby brother (or maybe sister) from the Goblins. And there was no difference between me and Ida. I don’t even know if I knew how to read yet, and I assume my dad must have read me this story before, but I was Ida, and I was brave and also scared of the goblins who replaced the baby with a changeling. And maybe, in that moment, after living so briefly and so vividly in this book, I became a big sister. Even if my little brother was not yet born or was just a baby. Whatever acuity or judgement I turn towards him, I will also hold up my trumpet, take back my evil wish, and save him from the goblins. And my brother knows that, I think, even though we are no longer children.