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 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT