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Maurice Sendak and "In Medias Res"

Tom Scocca:

Maurice Sendak: No backstory required: In “Where the Wild Things Are”… the word that first summons magic is a simple “his”: “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind / and another,” the opening pages read. Not “a wolf suit”; certainly not “the wolf suit his grandmother gave him for his birthday.” The wolf suit is a given. It already exists, and the story is already underway….

Library shelves groan under the weight of Quality Children’s Books with explicitly described scenarios of poverty, orphanhood, or divorce—instead of that already-occupied wolf suit, the characters are carefully vested in sackcloth. Sendak’s power was not that his work addressed children’s fear or anger or loneliness, but that it didn’t. He simply took up those things as givens, along with everything else. That’s the source of his books’ intensity. Sendak’s worlds are conjured whole, without introduction or explanation or motive. Mickey hears a noise and plunges into the Night Kitchen. Pierre arrives at breakfast and will say nothing but “I don’t care.” Johnny lived by himself…. This alarming suddenness, the inseparable union of the character and the situation—this is the way the real world presents itself to a child. Childhood, like a dream, begins in mid-story. The personalities and the rules are already in place…