09 May 2012

Sendak to wary parents: "Go to hell"

Reporter: "What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?"
Sendak: "I would tell them to go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate."
Reporter: "Because kids can handle it?"
Sendak: "If they can't handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it's not a question that can be answered.... This concentration on kids being scared, as though we as adults can't be scared. Of course we're scared. I'm scared of watching a TV show about vampires. I can't fall asleep. It never stops. We're grown-ups; we know better, but we're afraid."
Reporter: "Why is that important in art?"
Sendak: "Because it's truth. You don't want to do something that's all terrifying. I saw the most horrendous movies that were unfit for child's eyes. So what? I managed to survive."
I distinctly remember seeing Welles' War of the Worlds as a child; during the scene in the farmhouse when the head enters the basement I watched the movie from the floor, peering between the backs of the seats in the row ahead of me. It probably helped contribute to my development as an adult in some convoluted way...

More details re the Sendak comment and a (very) long discussion thread at the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate. Via Fark.

Reposted from 2009 to mark Maurice Sendak's recent death.


  1. I think he is right (if not a bit strident). You can certainly overdo it but the Disneyfication of all of our childhood stories takes something out of childhood. Children's stories should have frightening and sad elements. Its a critical way of acculturating children who will inevitably have to deal with frightening or sad things in real life..

  2. Love Sendak's comments. I bought my friend's daughter a "Max" hand puppet for her birthday a couple years back complete with matching Where the Wild Things Are birthday card. All the ladies at the birthday party were like: "Mmmm.. okay, it's some kind of devil puppet....nice". Apparently I was the only person who had even heard of the book (and merchandising). I was kinda stunned. As a kid I had the book and a puzzle and loved them both, they were mysterious and cool to a kid like me. Maybe now that the Spike Jonze movie's out they'll think I was "cool". Ungh.

  3. Two of my girls learned to read from memorizing the book. It's one of the great children's classics, IMHO. I am looking forward to the movie to see how they can stretch the book into movie length.

  4. Hahaha! OK, I can't help it....heres my story:
    When I was about five years old I saw this scary movie. For the next 4 years it was all I could talk about. Hell, I'm still talking about. Anyway, after I saw it when I was 4, I didn't know the name of the movie, but I would ask Mom "Do you know the movie about the Vegetable Man?".

    Of course she didn't and I would try to tell her about it.

    "There was a monster from Outer Space that landed at the North pole, and he got frozen in the ice , but the Army chipped him out of the ice and when the ice thawed out, he was the Vegetableman; he was big, and he ate the sled dogs, and Army didn't know how to kill him cuz bullets didn't work until they figured out that he was like a carrot so then they decided to cook him"

    I'm sure that I was wild eyed with my arms flailing as I described this movie, and then Mom would call me to supper and I would think about that movie as I moved my vegetables from one side of the plate to the other.

    It wasn't until about 1982, when John Carpenter remade the movie that I finally found out that the Vegetableman was actually just called "The Thing". So much for the imagination of Hollywood in the 1950's. They really could have used a kid like me.
    So after a 20 year wait, I got to see it again. It was funnier than I remember.

    Dr. Chapman: Find anything, Captain?
    Hendry: Not a sign. We poked into every snowbank within miles.
    Bob, Crew Chief: Barnes flushed a polar bear.
    Cpl. Barnes: Sure did.
    Dr. Chapman: Scare you?
    Cpl. Barnes: Not after I saw it was only a bear.

    1. If you've not seen it, you might enjoy this old post -


  5. Most (but not all) kids love being scared provided they've got back-up. I loved being scared by hte Dr. Who? music - I used to watch the opening and closing sequences from behind the sofa with my hands over my ears, humming.
    The monsters - no trouble - they were great even when I was of nursery age, it was just the music that did it.

    There's a big difference between being scared by something that's a real danger and the delicious thrill of being scared while on Mum's lap.

  6. If you haven't seen the Steven Colbert interview with Maurice Sendak from earlier this year, I would highly recommend part 2:


    He definitely seems like a very direct, pragmatic man, which is comedically ideal for Colbert's character.

  7. I second the recommendation above. He showed more of that interview the night after Sendak's death.

    You never know what will scare kids. I loved the 'creepy' and 'inappropriate' things like The Gashlycrumb Tinies and Beetlejuice, but was terrified of E.T. and baby dolls. My sister would freak out over things like Grimace, the McDonald's character. E.T. still scares me more than I usually like to admit.

  8. I hear you, and I'm on board. Scaring myself is one of my favorite pastimes. But I'm the mom, and I just spent all night up with my 9YO because I let him watch Fact or Faked, Paranormal Files. . . .
    Sometimes it's about me . . .but back to ME. . .

    1. Recently sat up and watched Alien with our nine year old daughter - she had a couple of moments - but later said that it was part of the fun.
      Didn't lose any sleep, either of us.

  9. Loved the interview with Colbert. We all (Mom, Dad, 3 daughters, 6 grandsons and 1 granddaughter) love Maurice Sendak.


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