I remember reading this book as a six year-old. My parents didn’t speak English as their first languages, so they never felt comfortable reading to us. So, I had to read it on my own.
To be honest, I did not enjoy this story as a child. It terrified me. Not the wild things. They were round and doll-like and cartoonish. As a child Max’s age, I was horrified by his punishment — being sent to bed without dinner. To my six year-old mind, a parent withholding food was like a parent withholding love. It was the first time I contemplated the possibility of losing my parents’ love and it made me feel so vulnerable.
Naturally, I was relieved that at the end of the story, dinner was waiting for Max — still hot — when he finally returned home. Dinner meant his mom still loved him. His need to return home meant that, in spite of his powerful reign over the wild things, he was still a little boy who needed that love.
The live action movie version directed by Spike Jonze has stirred up interest in the book again and my curiosity about it as well. My curiosity led me to a PBS interview of author Maurice Sendak with Bill Moyers. Here’s a link to the interview here.
In the interview, Maurice Sendak indicates that the book’s origins are based on his own childhood and his own sense of wish-fulfillment. He talked about how his Jewish relatives from the old country, with their voracious appetites for his affection and for food, inspired the monsters. There were times when he hated his mother the way Max does at the beginning of the story. He said he didn’t have Max’s courage or a mother who was forgiving and loving like Max’s mother. I’m sure he longed for those things as all children long for the things they know are missing from their lives.