Why is Maurice Sendak so loved

literature - From pedagogue horror to classic: Maurice Sendak's wild guys

A hero the likes of which had not yet been found in children's books: when Max entered the children's book stage in wolf clothing exactly fifty years ago, educators were shocked. How could you dedicate an entire children's book to such a naughty, cheeky guy?

There is a little boy who has disguised himself in a wolf's skin. He plays jokes, dives after the dog with a fork, plays monsters. For fear that he would overflow, the mother feels compelled to intervene. But he comes to her cheeky - entirely in his role as a monster. As a punishment, she sent him to bed without dinner, a parental punishment popular even then, long before Starkneföifi's song of the same name.

Observe instead of playing along

This Max sprang from the imagination of the author and draftsman Maurice Sendak, a son of Jewish immigrants in New York. Sendak, born in 1928, was an ailing child who preferred to watch the other children rather than play along. He had hardly any friends and was probably just as at home in his imagination as little Max.

Inner freedom as a counterbalance to external restrictions, as a suitable means of withstanding, even overcoming, the imposed limits - Sendak brilliantly sums up this gift in "Where the Wild Things Are". He landed a worldwide hit with his picture book: the book has been sold an estimated seven million times to date.

The king of the savages

The new thing about Senkad's book was that Max did not tearfully show repentance after his sentence. He just keeps playing “Monsterlis”, building up a whole dream world. A primeval forest suddenly grows in his room until "the walls were as wide as the world".

In it he meets the wild guys - Sendak draws them as a mixture of different animals and mythical creatures. They don't scare Max because he knows a trick: he conquers them with his eyes by not blinking.

As the wildest of them all, he becomes the king of guys. Sendak brings a boy's fantasy to the point: To be the wildest of all for once and admired for your own cheek - even today this daydream vibrates in the children's minds of entire classrooms.

Where the food tastes best

When the book was published in the 1960s, the fact that the mother's punishment did not apply caused displeasure - and confusion. Because until now children's picture books had an educational message. Maurice Sendak succeeds fantastically in vividly depicting the boy's world of experience. In his dream world, Max may be a hero, but he too is learning his lesson: true heroes are lonely. That is why he longs to go back to “where someone loves him most” and where the food tastes best: home.

In this sense, Maurice Sendak's work is also a great declaration of love to the mother. Anyone who gives a child such a good level of self-confidence that it feels loved and protected in a foreign country under horrific circumstances has by no means failed in their upbringing. On the contrary. This aspect probably remained hidden from the startled readers of the first generation in the 1960s. The children, on the other hand, understood him. And still love the story today, across all generations.

The film on SRF two

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“Where the Wild Things Are” by Spike Jonze with Catherine Keener and Mark Ruffalo on October 19th. at 3 p.m. on SRF two.

Book reference

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Maurice Sendak: “Where the wild things live”, Diogenes, 2009.