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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