Wild Rumpus

by Henry Farrell on December 17, 2008

“Ari”:http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2008/12/17/the-wild-things-are-jewish/, over at _Edge of the American West_, comes across a site “saying”:https://glammagems.com/item/40327/ that the Wild Things were Jewish.

The original concept for the book featured horses instead of monsters. Sendak said he switched when he discovered that he could not draw horses. The Wild Things (except “Goat Boy”, of course) were named after (and are presumably caricatures of) Maurice’s aunts and uncles: Aaron, Bernard, Emil, Moishe and Tzippy.

Moishe doll

Maybe this is common knowledge to lots of folks; I did know the story about the horses. But it reminds me that when I was reading _Where the Wild Things Are_ to my son two nights ago, I spotted that the moon in Max’s bedroom is three quarters full in the early illustrations, changes to a full moon when he begins his travels, and remains full when he returns to his bedroom, and (presumably) normality, linear time, and all that good stuff. Suggestions about what this is supposed to mean (and other _WTWTA_ trivia) welcome in comments.



Zamfir 12.17.08 at 7:47 pm

In dutch it is called “Max en de Maximonsters”. Somehow I was sure it was translated from German.


belle le triste 12.17.08 at 7:57 pm

he sails in and out of weeks and almost over a year! so obviously the moon can’t stay in the same phase — that would be silly


Henry 12.17.08 at 8:11 pm

Yes, but then he sails back again, doesn’t he. And his supper is waiting for him, with a _full moon_ in the window, in contradistinction to its phase at the beginning, and in agreement with its phase on the island of the wild things. If the moon changed to a full moon on the island, and then changed back again to what it was at the beginning, it would be consistent in the way you suggest. But it isn’t (perhaps a hint that the world he has returned to has been subtly changed by his journey)? Clearly, we need a Serious Academic Research Project on this topic …


belle le triste 12.17.08 at 8:46 pm

my copy is at my sister’s so the actually-looking-at-the-pictures bit of the “research” will have to wait — but speculation is also a kind of research….

max sails through a day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year — tellingly, no mention is made of months! what monthly moon-symbolised thing might have eased max’s mother’s mood about his multiple mischief-making?


Zamfir 12.17.08 at 8:52 pm

The academic research has already been done. Sort of



Bloix 12.17.08 at 9:25 pm

It’s not so much that the Wild Things are Jewish as that Maurice Sendak’s imagination is Jewish. VIrtually all his characters – human and animal – have Jewish features, because he creates them out of his memories of his childhood, which was entirely Jewish. And why shouldn’t the Wild Things look Jewish?


Henry 12.17.08 at 9:50 pm

Absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t – but it adds new resonances (in the same way as Eoin O’Brien’s book, _The Beckett Country_ does a good job in tracing out how much of Beckett’s apparently placeless landscapes can be traced back to specific locales and kinds of locale in Ireland).


Zeba 12.17.08 at 9:54 pm

Where the Wild Things Are was the first book I really remember, and it was the first book that I bought for my first child. The best find we ever made was the video/DVD version of the story which uses the Sendak stills and a lovely narration with accompanying music to tell the story, along with In the Night Kitchen (a book which I still find bizarrely lingers on lists of books that people have tried to have banned from public libraries) and other Sendak work.

Both my boys know the story by heart now, and I think it is a serious contender for best ever illustrated book for children. I will be interested to see the Spike Jonze version of the book which apparently had to be entirely reshot because the original director’s cut was too scary.


Zeba 12.17.08 at 9:58 pm

Oh, and yes, the world he returns to is subtly changed – as is Max. Now he knows where the Wild things are. He knows what they are. And he can rule the impulse that makes him become like them. This is why it is a work of genius – Max is at the heart of the story, and Max overcomes all dangers, those without and those within, and best of all, gains control. Not in a manipulative way, but in a way that shows that he can be in charge of himself.


Watson Aname 12.17.08 at 10:08 pm

I’ve always thought one of the nice things about CT is the depth and breadth of familiarity here with canonical literature.


Emma 12.17.08 at 11:01 pm

More serious academic research on this: Desmond Manderson, “Where the Wild Things Really Are: Children’s Literature and Law” in Michael Freeman, ed., Law and Popular Culture (Oxford Univ. Press, 2005), 47-70
Speaking as a parent, I agree it is one of the vanishingly few books (which also include Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen) that can be read an infinite number of times without diminution of its considerable power.


richard 12.18.08 at 12:00 am

…and it was still warm.

For me the defining moment is where the walls are no longer there: somehow in the preceding panel the forest is decorated onto the room, but when the walls fade out the room is finally quite lost.

And what of the moon in Harold and the Purple Crayon (a psychodrama of control and self-definition if ever I saw one)?


jholbo 12.18.08 at 4:07 am

I think if your name is Tzippy you tend to come pre-packaged as self-parody. Tzippy? I hope that was a nickname.


reason 12.18.08 at 7:36 am

Lunar eclipse (just finishing)?


bobfrombrockley 12.18.08 at 8:44 am

Tzippy (same as Tzipi, as in Livni) is short for Tziporah/Zipora/however you want to spell it, which means bird
What are ‘Jewish features’? Horns presumably? :)


Chris Armstrong 12.18.08 at 10:52 am

It’s a wonderful story, but my abiding memory of it as a child was of how very sad it was – that he renounced the kingdom of the Wild Things and returned home. It seemed unbearably wrong at the time for him to do that, but oddly my kids now don’t seem to think it’s a sad story at all – they’re just impressed that his dinner is still hot when he gets home. Putting my psychoanalyst’s hat on, I presume that my children feel more secure at home than I did, about which I guess I should feel glad.


ejh 12.18.08 at 11:04 am

In dutch it is called “Max en de Maximonsters”. Somehow I was sure it was translated from German.

In Spanish, Donde Viven Los Monstruos (Where Monsters Live) which lacks the subtleties of “wild things”. I’m reminded of the recent cover version of A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall by Zaragoza rock band Amaral, who translated it as Llegará La Tormenta …”The Storm Is Coming”.


Maurice Meilleur 12.18.08 at 12:43 pm

Slightly OT but regarding Sendak: If you have not seen Sendak’s illustrations for The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm (Powell’s), you’re in for a real treat. If you know a kid–or an adult–who loved books like Wild Things or Night Kitchen and is ready for some Grimm tales in all their original violence and gore, this is the book. There are about two dozen Sendak illustrations throughout, and most of the twenty-seven stories (translated by Lore Segal) are not well-known (or known at all) to English-speaking readers. I haven’t seen and can’t speak to the quality of the in-print one-volume edition, but the 1973 two-volume slipcased edition is really wonderful and reasonably-priced on the used market.

By the way, don’t believe Farrar, Straus & Giroux when they say the reading level for the stories is 4-8. Most parents would not want to read the title story (for example) to any four-year-old I know. Or the original versions of ‘Snow White’ or ‘Hansel & Gretel’, for that matter, also included in the collection.


bdbd 12.18.08 at 1:47 pm

I heard an engaging interview with Sendak a while ago, conducted by Terry Gross, in which he talked about growing up in Brooklyn (or some other part of NY, I forget which) with all those uncles and aunts. It was a neighborhood of mixed ethnicities — Jews and Italians, and of course when he was young Sendak wasn’t able to distinguish too well between the groups. He knew he was a Jew, and he thought the Italians were “happy Jews” unlike his own cohort of more dour Jews.


R Gould-Saltman 12.18.08 at 7:35 pm

My recollection, from my 1950’s New York City childhood which included Sendak’s “A Hole is To Dig” illustrations, was that Sendak’s kids, even in those tiny scratchy black ink line illustrations, were recognizably the kids around me in Queens, and not “Dick and Jane”; they were city kids, and looked like they were from a “neighborhood of mixed ethnicities”. Fifty years later, they’re still wonderful and energetic “kids”.


Henitsirk 12.20.08 at 6:37 am

Maurice Meilleur said: “By the way, don’t believe Farrar, Straus & Giroux when they say the reading level for the stories is 4-8. Most parents would not want to read the title story (for example) to any four-year-old I know. Or the original versions of ‘Snow White’ or ‘Hansel & Gretel’, for that matter, also included in the collection.”

Au contraire. While 4 is a bit young for many Grimm’s tales, 5-8 is the prime time for these stories. For example, many Waldorf teachers have lists of tales with suggested ages, because the tales are seen as psychologically and developmentally appropriate.

Children see the justice in these stories — the bad are punished, but mercy can also be shown. The heroes and heroines receive help from the spiritual world (the duck that carries Hansel and Gretel across the stream). The prince and princess, representing the earthly and the higher self, must be integrated. Children respond to that (if subconsciously), despite adults’ squeamishness over some of the stories’ details. The Bettelheim view of the symbolic value of fairy tales fits right in with this, but from a Freudian perspective.

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