Sep 16, 2017

Wild Things: The Gay Art of Maurice Sendak

Adults like to think of childhood as a blissful Eden, a period of endless joy, unblemished by anxieties over money or sex or death.  But they're wrong.  Childhood is terrifying and painful, crowded with anxieties over money, sex, and death, dismemberment, abandonment, anger, friendship,  and desire.  Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) inhabited this world better than any other writer.

He was gay, so several of his books can be read as the struggle of a gay child to make sense of the world, and two are about gay couples.

1. Where the Wild Things Are (1963): Max threatens to eat his mother, and while being punished, runs away to the world of the Wild Things.  He stares them down, becomes their king, and decrees that a Wild Rumpus begin. But he gets homesick and goes home. The 2009 movie added some hetero-romance, among the Wild Things, not Max (Max Records).  There have also been stage plays and a ballet.

2. In the Night Kitchen (1970). An amazingly vivid, scary story of Mickey, who sneaks out of his bed to a surreal night kitchen, where three chefs (all of whom look like Oliver Hardy) are making the breakfast "cake."  He helps them, meanwhile wondering about where his body ends and the natural world begins: "I'm in the milk and the milk's in me."

It has been banned in many schools because the toddler is naked -- don't want five-year olds knowing that five-year olds sometimes have a penis.

Sendak's art for adults often contains penises as well, but never to be salacious, to depict vulnerability rather than desirability.

3. We are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993) is a traditional nursery rhyme with a gay family twist.  Gay partners Jack and Guy find a little boy with "one black eye," a victim of bullying or abuse.  Jack wants to "knock him on the head," continuing the abuse, but Guy suggests that they buy him some bread instead, and "We'll bring him up as other folks do."

4. My Brother's Book (2012). Two brothers are torn apart when a falling star crashes to the earth.  It's a love letter to his partner of fifty years, psychiatrist Eugene Glynn, who died in 2007.  With beautiful watercolors inspired by William Blake.

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