Maurice Sendak

Presumably you’ve heard that Maurice Sendak has died. He was 83 years old and best known for his book Where the Wild Things Are. You can read more about his life and work at this New York Times article.

I did read Where the Wild Things Are as a child and when the Spike Jonze movie came out a few years ago I went to see it in the theater. It was a pleasant movie, but nothing I would probably choose to watch again.

My favorite Sendak works were discovered accidentally and, at the time, I did not even realize they were from him at all. I grew up with a father and grandmother who loved to read and books of all kinds were readily available in our house, especially strange, second hand books that seemed to magically appear on our bookshelves. One of these books was Outside Over There, written and illustrated by Sendak. It follows the story of a young girl whose baby sister has been stolen by goblins and she must travel to save her sister before the goblins marry her to one of them.

It’s a lovely and wonderfully creepy book and one I’m glad has stayed in our possession.

Another book I discovered unknowingly was The Golden Key by George MacDonald. I recently (re?)discovered MacDonald about a year ago when reading a lot about C.S. Lewis and finding out that MacDonald was a huge influencer for him and J.R.R. Tolkien. And then realized I had read one of his fairy stories years earlier as a child. I distinctly remember that I was at my grandmother’s apartment one rainy day. I began browsing her bookshelf and this book jumped out at me. Perhaps it was the cover illustration, perhaps it was the mystery inherent in the title. For a key is never mentioned unless it unlocks something and I wanted to find out what it would unlock.

Sendak’s incredibly detailed black and white drawings were the perfect complement to MacDonald’s story.

Another story written by George MacDonald, The Light Princess, was also illustrated by Sendak. An evil fairy, offended when she is not invited to the new princess’ christening, casts a spell on the baby depriving her of gravity (both physical and emotional). The only cure can come if the princess is made to cry which of course happens due to a handsome prince.

Again, Sendak’s illustrations perfectly complement MacDonald’s story. It’s a shame he could not have illustrated more of MacDonald’s work.

I would recommend trying to find copies of these books at the library; the hardback editions of the MacDonald books are from the same publisher and have the same format. Buying the books will probably result in paperback editions.

If you’re interested in looking at more of Maurice Sendak’s art I would recommend The Art of Maurice Sendak by Selma G. Lanes. It’s a massive book but full of beautiful illustrations. Although considering the price on amazon, this might be one to get at the library as well.

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4 thoughts on “Maurice Sendak

  1. David says:

    Aw, I didn’t know that he died! Or that he illustrated any of MacDonald’s works! Macdonald is one of my favorite authors — I highly recommend Phantastes and Lilith in particular.

    I actually loved the Where the Wild Things Are movie. It’s very melancholy, but in a beautiful, affecting way. There’s no other movie quite like it. It’s atmosphere is heavy, it’s soundtrack invigorating and evocative of wild youth, and its story fairly poetic. My only real complaint is that I think Max should have had a clearer character arc and learned more by the end, so that his return to his mother at the end would have more repentance in it. He really was a jerk to her, and he should have been taught a lesson. Also, the those “wise” owls that don’t actually speak were pointless, as if the scene revealing their purpose was cut. But other than that, I thought it was a powerful movie, and one I have indeed watched multiple times. It always captivates me.

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    • Mary says:

      Perhaps the movie never stuck with me much because I was never a fan particularly of the book. I liked it of course but I felt Outside Over There was a much better story. I should clarify that I only saw it once in the theater and perhaps a second viewing is in order.

      MacDonald has quickly become one of my favorites as well. His tales are just unlike anything else I have ever read. In that respect, Sendak’s art is the perfect complement to MacDonald’s writing. I have not read Lilith yet, or Phantastes (my public library unfortunately has neither of them). I did start to read Phantastes as an ebook but that format is not my favorite. Perhaps I shall try again.

      Christian fantasy is such an underrated genre overall; it’s really a shame

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      • David says:

        I don’t rave over the book like some people, as I think it’s ending is a little week because Max doesn’t really learn much from his dream/adventure. But I’ve always admired the simple poetry of those sentences, and Sendak’s evocative drawings.

        MacDonald can be difficult, but he’s well worth the effort. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be bewildered by him — the way he approaches his narratives (at least in those two books) is very unconventional, and it can be hard to piece things together. But focus on his philosophy and the characters’ emotions, and I think that’s the key to understanding those two books. But I do need to reread them.

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  2. […] no secret that I love beautiful art and, especially, beautiful book illustrations. I’m a fan of Susan Cooper on Facebook (the author of the fantastic The Dark is […]

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