Maurice Sendak is best known as the guy who wrote and illustrated Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. These two books are part of a trilogy. The last one is called Outside Over There. The last one is a lot less compelling than the first two. Those first two books are like songs by The Beatles or a line from Casablanca; everyone knows them, even if they’ve never read them. I think that The Mighty Boosh is like a Sendak story because you start and finish in the same place, and in the middle is an amazing journey filled with crazy things that still obey a kind of dream logic.
Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963. Here’s what Sendak said about the book:
Through fantasy, Max, the hero of my book, discharges his anger against his mother, and returns to the real world sleepy, hungry and at peace with himself…. From their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve cartharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things. It is mu involvement with this inescapable fact of childhood – the awful vulnerability of children and their struggle to make themselves King of all the Wild Things – that gives my work whatever truth and passion it may have.
Partly Sendak was talking about fear and anxiety in this quote because quite a few people criticised the book when it came out for being too scary for children, and Sendak was saying: “As if children don’t know what fear is!”
The magical combination of words in a book can run fear through our veins. When Eleanor is at her grandmother’s house there is a book about the troll under the bridge called The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Eleanor has had the story read to her many times and she sits silently on her grandmother’s knee as it is read to her, with wide eyes. When she is alone Eleanor approaches the book with trepidation, as if there is something powerful locked inside, something powerful and frightening that she is also attracted to.
Sendak says there were two major influences on his Wild Things: King Kong and his Jewish relatives who would visit when he was a kid:
There you’d be, sitting on a kitchen chair, totally helpless, while they cooed over you and pinched your cheeks. Or they’d lean way over and with their bad teeth and hairy noses, and say something threatening like ‘You’re so cute I could eat you up.’
So, the dream is based on a reality from the writer’s life, just like the dream for Max is based on the reality of his world established in the first few frames. Max starts the book in a blanket tent with a picture on the wall of a monster. He winds up in a tent for a king and lord of the Wild Things. There’s no better illustration of this fantasy based on a reality than the way the elements of Max’s room transform from the mundane into trees and vines.
I’m watching season one of The Mighty Boosh. Our two heroes are Harold Moon and Vince Noir. They work in a Zoo. The show doesn’t really make sense, but it makes more sense if you know that the original idea of the two comedians who made it was to become the new Goodies, and that they “both had fathers who loved Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, and who encouraged their sons to avoid getting proper jobs.”
But what appeals to me about the show so far doesn’t have much to do with this. I never really liked The Goodies (well, I did a bit, but thought other shows were funnier), and I have always sort of detested Zappa and Beefheart. What I love about the two main characters are that they are really little boys who haven’t had their sense of wonder and imagination pummelled out of them. Quite often when Harold and Vince are about to die they reflect on the good times they have had together:
Vince Noir: Howard? You think it’s going to be alright?
Howard Moon: No. We’re gonna die in the most horrific way known to man.
Vince Noir: [smiling] Had some good times, though, didn’t we?
Howard Moon: Yeah…
Vince Noir: Huh… yeah…
Howard Moon: [wistfully] Remember the time we had that soup?
Vince Noir: That was brilliant.
[they start singing]
Howard Moon, Vince Noir: Soup! Soup! A tasty… Soup! Soup! A spicy, carrot and coriander…
Vince Noir: …chilli chowder!
Howard Moon, Vince Noir: Crouton! Crouton! Crunchy friends in a liquid broth.
I am gazpachio… OH! I am a summer soup… Mm! Miso! Miso! Fighting in the dojo. Miso! Miso! Oriental prince in the land of soup!
[they stop singing]
Vince Noir: Classic times.
Howard Moon: [shaking his head] Crazy days…
Most of these songs are accompanied by an elaborate sequence of hand gestures and dance moves. It’s absurd, but it’s also rather sweet, and suggests a long friendship and many adventures together. Or should that be japes. Jolly japes. In The Mighty Boosh it feels more like we are escaping into a world of absurd B-grade boys own adventures (with rubbish special effects) than into the surreal adult world of Dali, and I was quite chuffed when I found an article where Vince more or less says the same thing:
[Vince] insists it’s more fitting to refer to the influence of children’s books: particularly Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Raggety, the spiky, scary forest creature made out of sticks who encounters Rupert Bear.
I read Rupert Bear books when I was a kid and loved them. For awhile I think they were locked in the “WE ARE ASHAMED” cupboard of libraries along with the Noddy books. Noddy was put there because of his unhealthy relationship with Big Ears, Rupert for fighting with Golliwogs.
I think we might need to go and look at Sendak next.
Howard Moon: Just imagine the headlines ‘Howard Moon, Colon, Explorer’. Got a ring to that don’t it?
Vince Noir: Colon Explorer?
Howard Moon: You know what I saying.
Vince Noir: I think that’s got the wrong ring to it.
I took Eleanor to creche this morning. She is usually quite keen on creche and breathlessly lists all of the people she will see when she gets there. This morning when I was trying to negotiate her into the car seat I asked her: “Do you want to go to creche?” and she said, in a small voice, “no”.
Sometimes Eleanor says no and she really means “yes, but I’m going to say no because you’re manipulating me and I know it”. This time I think she meant no.
When we got to creche I took her over to the table where the other kids were playing with play dough. She made little play dough birthday cakes, put toothpicks in the top for candles and then blew them out and cut me a piece. Eleanor likes this little ritual of the birthday cake. I stayed for awhile and enjoyed some of her cake, but then it was time for me to go. She wouldn’t let me go. She clung to my leg and asked for cuddles and howled. It was hard to go.
I never liked school when I was a student. I can remember getting into my uniform when I was about seven years old and hating it. I worked out how many years it would be until I could leave. When you are only seven then ten years is an enormous amount of time. Ten years seemed like a prison sentence. Well I served my time, and here I am, still at school.
The first day at Kāpiti College was hard, because I had been to primary school in Wellington and I didn’t know a single person at my new school. It was like being a wall flower at some enormous party, sitting uncomfortably against the wall wanting to with Mum, or friends, or by myself but knowing that I had to confront this thing called growing up.
This thing called growing up. It never stops.
I sat in the car outside creche and felt down. I want to make Eleanor feel loved and happy all the time, but I also want her to find the happiness of finding herself, becoming herself and having the strength to be independent when she is a woman. Is this what it feels like to be a parent? Is it a slow tearing apart that never leads to separation? Is it the consolation of love built on a store of memories? A little loss. A little loneliness at the end.