As a little girl I liked doodle bears and barbies, but I adored troll dolls and mad balls and furbies. I was half in love with Beetlejuice and I dreamt of one day looking as lovely as Wednesday Addams. Ahh! Real Monsters was my favorite show, I dressed as Quail Man for Halloween, I wanted to be Belle just so I could hang out with the Beast, and everywhere I went I toted Fuzzy, my beloved hairless teddy bear.
I have always loved misfits best of all. And some of my favorite misfits have invariably been the Wild Things.
I remember being so envious of Max as a child. I wished that I too, could have a wild rumpus with those beautiful wild things. I remember the profound sadness I felt for them when Max left them begging on the shore and I remember thinking that if they had made me their king, I would have never abandoned them.
I was a six year old with two loving, attentive parents and yet an inexplicable kinship to an unruly brigade of discarded beasts. It’s a hard connection to draw at 24 years old. An impossible one for a child. But it was a connection I felt nonetheless.
Maurice Sendak wrote Where The Wild Things Are and a number of other children’s books to help kids master tough emotions. Simultaneously simple and esoteric, his stories starred youthful characters that found unique ways to work through anger, jealousy, fear and the pressures of responsibility. Max, the little beasty, stole the most attention.
It must have had something to do with the way his imagination offered him deliverance. How he made adequate room for himself to experience his emotions safely, freely and in their entirety. He gave a stunning display of imaginative artistry and mental agility that resulted in momentous, triumphant realization. He was designed for us, as children, to first identify with, idolize as we watched him conquer, and then mimic.
But I didn’t identify with Max. I envied him with his power and his strength, but I felt the Wild Things.
In 2009 Spike Jones brought my darling Things to life. And suddenly I didn’t just feel the Wild Things, but they became physical embodiments of my feelings. It was as if each fleshed out character symbolized a set of emotions, a facet of our complex inner workings.
There’s Ira, our gentleness and our innocence; our soft underbelly. Douglas, our quiet patience, our reliable side, the voice of reason. KW, both dreamer and realist, experiencing the symptomatic depression that can befall one who possesses both of those battling virtues. Judith, an aggressor, stricken with jealousy. The Bull, the introvert in all of us. Alexander, representing the parts that feel meek, neglected and misunderstood. And then there’s Carol, a massive presence that emits anger and fear, both rooted in overwhelming insecurity. It’s as if Max is the vehicle through which they all exist. He is the physical us and the Wild Things are the intangibles that live inside of us, constantly quarreling on.
After arriving in the forest with the Wild Things and declaring himself their king, Max makes it his mission to bring harmony to a group eternally at odds. He promises that under his rule, they will all be happy and none of them will suffer. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. It never could have. Max healed himself and left his Wild Things just as broken as he had found them.
When I first watched it I was devastated. I cried and cried and cried as I watched my vulnerable, childlike ophs howling on the beach. I was angry at Max. I refused to understand why there couldn’t be a happy ending for the Wild Things. They weren’t perfect, no. But their rawness, their imperfection and their incompleteness just made me love them more. It made me want them to protect them.
I recognize now that what I really wanted to protect were the once broken bits of me.
And in a turn of events that a broken, little me would have never expected, I’ve come to understand that I am Max. I have been all along. And all of those incomplete, seemingly discordant Wild Things inside of me come together to form a person possessing the strength and power that I always envied in the little wolf. I don’t have to feel sorry for them because no matter how much they roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth, my beasties will never be without me. I can’t promise them that they will always be happy and that they will never suffer. But I can promise that as the king who rules them, the king they always wanted and the one I always wanted to be, they will always be a loved, respected and necessary part of our unshakable realm.
After watching Jones’ film, I’ve considered how strange my longtime attachment to them has been. How it’s almost like a younger me had tacked on this backstory 10 years before it was actually born. As if I knew what each of the Wild Things represented all along. Sometimes I wonder… If I it’s impossible that I sensed it, why had I always loved them so?
And then I suppose that I was just born a wild thing.