Skip to main content

Maurice Sendak: King of all Wild Things

By Gregory Maguire, Special to CNN
updated 11:08 AM EDT, Wed May 9, 2012
"Generations have grown up with characters like Max from 'Where the Wild Things Are' and Mickey from 'In the Night Kitchen,' and his influence will continue to be felt for years to come," said John Sellers of Publishers Weekly. "Generations have grown up with characters like Max from 'Where the Wild Things Are' and Mickey from 'In the Night Kitchen,' and his influence will continue to be felt for years to come," said John Sellers of Publishers Weekly.
HIDE CAPTION
Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
Outside Over There (1981)
In The Night Kitchen (1970)
Bumble-Ardy (2011)
Maurice Sendak: 1928-2012
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gregory Maguire says when he met him, Maurice Sendak was clearly King of All Wild Things
  • He says his seminal book was many things but especially showed kids as full humans
  • He says Sendak was complex; had uncompromising respect for children
  • Maguire: To the end, Sendak never stopped yearning to make the next beautiful thing

Editor's note: Gregory Maguire is the best-selling author of "Making Mischief: a Maurice Sendak Appreciation" and of many other novels, including "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," the basis for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical "Wicked." He has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston.

(CNN) -- I met the original Wild Thing when he was about halfway through his long life. At a conference of many fine artists and writers, Maurice Sendak was indisputably "King of All Wild Things." But in the late 1970s, when "Where the Wild Things Are" was only 15 years old (it is turning 50 soon), it was already, indisputably, a classic.

But not just a classic of children's books. It was a seminal book about childhood, and a journal of the life of an artist, and a clarion call for the satisfaction of those twin and opposite needs: independence and society.

Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire

The man himself was small, compact, witty, intense. He was not above gossip; he could be vindictive, salacious, morose and self-absorbed. But friends and admirers took all that in their stride. And he will be remembered for his uncompromising vision not about the sweetness of children -- their purity -- but about their complexity and wholeness as human beings.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook/CNNOpinion

The legacy of Maurice Sendak
Obama gets in character for 'Wild Things'
Maurice Sendak: My work is peculiar

Scholars suggest that in earlier centuries children were considered as deformed adults, more animal than angel. Or they were perfect packaged gifts from heaven, Mother Nature in glorious form, only to be corrupted by growing up. Sendak stood up squarely in the middle of the last century, and he shouted both those inanities out the door. Children are full humans, compromised only by their lack of vocabulary and practice in reporting how they live. But they live as fully as Sendak himself lived right up to his last months and weeks and hours.

News: Author of "Where the Wild Things Are" dies

He leaves us with images of children flying to adventure and back again. Mickey In the Night Kitchen swooping out of his clothes into a basin of bread batter. Max Where the Wild Things Are sailing to the wild rumpus "in and out of weeks and almost over a year." Using images and techniques inspired by William Blake, Randolph Caldecott, Samuel Palmer and others, Maurice Sendak interpreted the works of great masters: Grimm, George MacDonald, Herman Melville. But he was never humbled by the association. No, their reputations were enhanced by his attention to them.

The Beastie Boys' link to Sendak: Spike Jonze

I knew him for about 35 years. As I turned from writing for children to writing for adults and began my novel "Wicked," I thought of how he never stopped yearning to make the next beautiful thing, the next meaningful page, even when his royalty checks piled up like oak leaves in the autumn around his country doorway. It was the work that counted, the chance of learning something new about himself. The chance of having something new to pass on to us.

Reaction: Sendak sparked 'wild' creativity in young readers

Were there time, I would write more; but, you see, there are some books over there I need to look at again, more closely than before. I do not put them back on the shelves. There is no time for that kind of luxury. I need to remember, now, what he told us. Meanwhile, as he passes away, some more sentimental scrap of me (that he would have scorned) hopes he is settling down to some nice bowl of chicken soup with rice with Emily Dickinson or Herman Melville. Though they have been impatient to meet him in person for a very long time, no doubt they'll greet him as a fellow king.

By now, Sendak is finding his dinner waiting for him.

And it is still hot.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gregory Maguire

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT