I never read Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are as a kid. I can recognize the book, and I knew it was popular, but somehow it was a title that I just never had much to do with.
Recently this book was turned into a film, which expanded on Sendak’s original picture-book story. There was much discussion about the film being too adult, and not in the general feel of the children’s story. I saw the film, and I agree, it’s not appropriate for children – but I don’t think it should have been. The kids about my age and older who grew up reading Where The Wild Things Are are the people who watched the film, and it was appropriate for that age group.
Lesser known is the fact that at around the same time, the picture-book was adapted to a novel, written by Dave Eggers, who also wrote the screenplay. The novel diverges from the story of the film in parts, but generally feels the same and has the same message – it’s not as dark as the film though, and I think you could almost read this novel to a kid (probably about 8yo+) and have them understand it and get something out of it.
The story is about Max, a young boy whose parents have not long divorced. Max is having trouble with his sister not caring about him any more, and his mum giving her attention to a new man, Gary. Max plays up and causes trouble – his mum tells him he’s caused “permanent damage”. While she’s referring to the house, Max sees it as emotional damage, and runs away from home in confusion. He gets in his boat and tries to steer toward the city, where his father is. Somehow though, Max drifts out to sea and lands on an island full of creatures who are as wild as Max. They make him their king, and during his time on the island, Max learns that it’s impossible to please everyone all the time, and that there are very real consequences for the things he decides to do. By leaving his home, Max learns to see the wild thing inside himself.
Written in a very simple style, Dave Eggers has written a touching story which could speak equally to adults and older children. Though the language is uncomplicated, the story is by no means one-dimensional. Eggers here absolutely disproves the rule of “writing what you know” as being the most effective way to write a moving story. He makes utterly unreal creatures more human than many of the characters I’ve read elsewhere, showing that all you really need to have is a point. And a way with words – oh, Lordy! Has Dave Eggers got a way with words! (The idea of Max being “half boy, half wind” just kills me!) He paints beautiful imagery, and is consistent with it. Metaphors appear and re-appear , ideas weave their way seamlessly through the narrative as character motivators (such as Carol’s attachment to the idea of the sun dying).
Even though the story is set in an unnamed land, inhabited by unreal wild creatures, I found myself on the verge of tears by the end of the book. Each character had an absolute purpose in the same way that real people do. I felt like I’d wandered into a firmly established and very real situation in much the same way as Max had, and there was no point in the story when I didn’t believe or care about what was happening.
I’m a bit of a Dave Eggers fan, having recently read How We Are Hungry and just about wetting myself over its brilliance, and having a fairly obsessive attachment to A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius. A children’s book adaptation though? Really?
Yes, really. Don’t let the premise put you off. Dave Eggers has written in a super-tight way, true to his usual form, and has turned fantastical characters into something very real that will stick with you.