When you’re writing 1,200 words about a 338-word book, at some point you have to ask yourself, do I have anything better to do with my time?
I always thought “Where the Wild Things Are” was a nice little children’s book about imagination and anger and familial love. But after reading it again, I’ve realized it’s a lot darker than I remember.
- Stuff You Should Know
- Author and illustrator: Maurice Sendak
- Age of the book: 54 years old
- Publisher: Harper Collins
- Medium: Book, of course
So there’s this kid named Max. He dresses up in a wolf costume and creates stress for his parents by nailing things to the wall and chasing the family dog, threatening to stab it with a fork. When his mom calls him out on his bad behavior, he tells her that he’ll eat her up. He says it in all caps, too, so you know it’s serious.
Max’s mom punishes him by sending him to bed without any dinner.
Already, we can see that Max is a troubled boy. Cannibalistic matricide is not appropriate for any human being, and it’s especially disturbing coming from the mouth of a boy who’s not even 12 years old. Max seems to have forgotten that old saying: Fish are not friends, not food. The same goes for humans.
On an unrelated note, Cannibalistic Matricide would make a good name for a death metal band that’s starving for attention.
Now here’s where things get weird. That night, a forest grows in his room. He didn’t plant seeds or anything. Trees just start popping up out of the floor. Then an ocean just happens to “tumble by with a private boat” and Max hops in.
And although he has no prior training in steering a sailboat (I’m guessing, due to his age), and despite the fact that he doesn’t have any food or supplies that we can see, and even though he has no map or sextant or star chart or GPS in his possession, not to mention little to no knowledge of marine navigation, Max is able to sail for “almost over a year to where the wild things are.”
What is almost over a year? Is it a year exactly? Or just under a year? I’m confused.
Anyway, on the shore, Max meets these silly looking monsters, and everything about them is terrible, from their roars to their eyes. But he’s not intimidated. He goes full Jesus-mode on them and yells “BE STILL!”, then beats all of them in a staring contest and earns their respect.
The monsters respect him so much that they make him king.
King Max’s first order of business is to “let the wild rumpus start!”
Apparently, this involves jumping up and down, clawing at the moon, hanging from tree branches, and dancing in a row with arms linked. Sounds pretty wild to me, especially the dancing part. I’m pretty sure this book is banned from hundreds of Baptist homes because of the dancing imagery.
After having fun for a while, King Max tells the beasts to stop and sends them to bed without any food, because he’s the king and he can do whatever he wants. As he’s sitting on a stool in a tent, he realizes something: He’s lonely. He needs someone to love him.
Then he smells something good to eat. This smell comes from across the world, and it’s so tantalizing that Max gives up his crown and hops into his boat, much to the monsters’ dismay. They cry, they ask him to stay, they say they’ll eat him up, they say they love him. But all to no avail. Max is gone.
If you’re trying to keep someone from leaving, it’s probably best not to threaten to eat them. Just a thought. Most people don’t like being part of another living creature’s caloric intake for the day.
This is a bad move on Max’s part. He comes to the monsters’ island, brings them joy for a short while, then leaves. How long will the creatures grieve the loss of their ruler? They’re probably all sitting on the shore right now, waiting for the Return of the King. But he never will return. Because he smelled food.
Let this be a lesson to all you people who live in societies that give you the power to choose the people who have authority over you. First, a staring contest is a terrible way to pick a king. Out of all the civilizations that chose their rulers based upon how long they could keep their eyes open, how many of them are still in existence today? Zero.
Second, you can’t pick just any random person off the street or ocean. If you do that, you run the risk of putting an idiot or a supervillain or a boy in a wolf costume in charge. In this case, the wild things were enamored with a boy in a wolf costume who was fickle and driven by his love for food more than anything. Then again, he hadn’t eaten in almost over a year. He should have ordered the monsters to prepare a feast in his honor.
I can’t really blame him for leaving. I probably would’ve left if I hadn’t eaten in 6 hours, let alone almost over a year.
I hope this has taught the wild things an important lesson on choosing their leaders wisely. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t learn a thing. Judging by the illustrations in the book, they looked pretty dumb.
The journey back takes Max a little longer, over a year this time. He arrives in his room and finds his dinner waiting for him. And although it’s been sitting there for more than 365 days, it’s still hot.
This ending raises more questions than answers. Was Max’s mom worried at all that her son was gone for two years? How did she keep the food warm for so long? What exactly did she make for dinner? And why did she change her mind? I thought she sent Max to bed without any food.
We don’t even know if Max’s mom prepared the food. I think there’s a reason why the author doesn’t specify what the meal is comprised of. Remember when Max said he would eat his mom? What if that’s his mom on the plate?
I know this is a children’s book, but I think it’s safe to say Maurice Sendak purposely wrote this ambiguous ending so as not to rule out the possibility of Max becoming a cannibal. Even in the illustration, it’s not exactly clear what is on Max’s plate. I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that some unknown character prepared Max’s mother for him to eat.
The moral of the story: No matter how many friends you have, no matter how many parties you go to, no matter how much dancing and debauchery you enjoy, when you go home at the end of the day, you’ll feel empty inside, because there’s only one thing that can fill you up: Food.
Should you read this book to your children? That depends on how old your children are and how comfortable you are with exposing them to mature concepts such as cannibalism and dancing.