LET THE animated rumpus begin.
Just more than a year after Maurice Sendak’s death, and an even half-century after the publication of his most famous book, his wild things spring eternal.
Young Max may have been sequestered to his bedroom in 1963, but his imagination could not be, and the snarling party of monsters — led by their boy king — continues to stir our senses. And so it is apt that to celebrate what would have been Sendak’s 85th birthday today, Google kicks off its rollicking rumpus of an animated Doodle with a nod to his “Where the Wild Things Are” — the book that fought off initial critical pans to become a bestselling, generation-spanning classic.
This delicious and wonder-spun wheel of a Doodle then moves onto the wild concrete streets of Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen” before fittingly marking the birthday party from “Bumble-Ardy,” Sendak’s 2011 book.
But as the passage of time wheels by, why does Sendak’s work strike us still as so timeless?
Perhaps it’s Sendak’s sheer transmitted joy.
“It’s the only true happiness I’ve ever, ever enjoyed in my life,” the irascible and inimitable Sendak said in the 2009 HBO documentary about him, “Tell Them Anything You Want,” in describing the magic of making books in isolation. “It’s sublime to just go into another room and make pictures. It’s magic time where all your weaknesses of character, and all blemishes of personality, and whatever else torments you fades away, just doesn’t matter.”
Or as he said so simply:
“You’re doing the one thing you want to do and you do it well, and you know you do it well, and you’re happy.”
[MAURICE SENDAK: A Comic Riffs appreciation].
Perhaps it’s Sendak’s sense of transcendence, as many of his characters — like the beloved author/illustrator himself — tapped imagination to soar beyond the immediate and mundane and concrete.
“The whole promise is to do the work, sitting down at a drawing table, turning on the radio,” he said. “And I think, ‘What a transcendent life this is that I’m doing everything I want to do.’ ”
Or perhaps it’s that pure sense of play, being touched indirectly, tangentially, by what moved the man.
“I’m trying very hard to concentrate on what is here, what I can see, what I can smell, what I can feel – making that the important business of life. Just looking out the window at the colors that I see, reading Charles Dickens at night for an hour, little rituals I have of listening to Mozart.”
Maybe, though, it was really about the honesty beneath the rollicking frolic:
“I think what I’ve offered was different. But not because I drew better than anybody, or wrote better than anybody, but because I was more honest than anybody.”
And so, perhaps, it was an ironic frolic, because the curmudgeonly Sendak was the children’s author who didn’t “believe” in children, and so he told us true — never sugarcoating his tales with saccharine sentiment to appease “kids”:
“In the discussion of children, and the lives of children, and the fantasies of children, and the language of children, I said anything I wanted, because I don’t believe in children. I don’t believe in childhood. I don’t believe there’s a demarcation of ‘you mustn’t tell them this, you mustn’t tell them that.’ You tell them anything you want.
“Just tell them if it’s true. If it’s true, you tell them.”
Yet while Sendak said he didn’t believe in children, he undoubtedly, somehow, believed in childhood:
“Why is my needle stuck in childhood? I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess that’s where my heart is.”
So that is where the wild things are. The same place and destination as where his heart is.
Sendak was the towering talent whose unwavering creative compass always pointed toward Truth — even as his sails were powered with modesty rather than puffed-up self-importance.
“You’re done with your work, you’re done with your life. And your life was your work.”
Sendak was done with his work last May, in Danbury, Conn., days after suffering a stroke.
In our world, he was 83.
But in his world, to tell it true, he was forever in childhood — the artful heart sprung free.
Happy birthday, young Mr. Sendak. Let the rumpus never end.
‘Where the Wild Things Are’:
‘In the Night Kitchen’:
DISNEY TEST: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’:
FEATURE FILM: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ (Trailer):
SENDAK on ‘THE COLBERT REPORT’:
TOP 10 GOOGLE DOODLES THAT HONOR VISUAL/MUSICAL ARTISTS:
1. WINSOR McCAY: THE OTHERWORDLY DOODLE
2. LES PAUL: THE PLAYABLE GUITAR
3. MARTHA GRAHAM: THE DANCING DOODLE
4. JOHN LENNON: IMAGINE THIS DOODLE
5. FREDDIE MERCURY: THE MUSIC VIDEO
6. JIM HENSON: THE CLICKABLE MUPPETS
7. CHARLES ADDAMS: THE SPOOKY DOODLE
8. ART CLOKEY: THE “GUMBY DOODLE”
9. MARY BLAIR: THE DISNEY DOODLE
10. DIEGO RIVERA: THE LARGER-THAN-LIFE MURAL