There are some authors that strike terror into me: not a Stephen King-style fear of the dark, but a kind of awe-struck horrified acceptance that I could never write anything of such depth and wisdom and authorial cunning. (Stephen King qualifies as a scare-monger on the latter point for sure.)
For a student currently studying a Masters in Professional Writing, this realistion is... how can I put it, not discouraging, but... grounding. Don’t get ideas above your station, Furniss.
I was thinking of my terrific and terrifying authors list today, when I read that Maurice Sendak had died. I never grew up with his best-known book, Where The Wild Things Are, but it is my childrens’ absolute favourite. They go to bed many a night with a headful of wild rumpus and still-hot supper. They love it, monsters and all, and here is why I think it should be a set-text for all children (and most adults).
Sendak famously said that he “doesn’t lie to children”. The beating heart of Wild Things is its honest portrayal of a toddler’s terrifying emotions. It’s a book about anger management.
The hero of Wild Things, Max, gets sent to bed “without his supper” by his exasperated mother. Alone in his room, Max goes on a magical journey to a land of monsters, becoming their king when they see that he is “the most wild thing of all”. When he grows tired of their “wild rumpus”, he travels back to his room to find his supper waiting for him, and “it is still hot”.
That’s the story the kids hear, anyway.
What I read is: Mum loses her rag during that tricky pre-bedtime period (heck, Mrs Max, we’ve all been there). Ordered to his room, Max throws a massive tantrum - a journey that seems to go on for ever, "over a year, in and out of weeks”, as he gives in to his fury. After the temper burns out, he wants his Mum who, of course, is waiting with comfort and a warm supper...
It’s a beautiful and touching kind of honesty that’s all the stronger for confronting the darker side of our (both toddlers’ and mums’) natures: reassuring children that they can show their powerful emotions, they can make mistakes, they don’t have to be perfect all the time, but we still love and accept them.
And surely that’s what everyone wants in life - to have "someone who loves them best of all"?