Where The Wild Things Are
Where The Wild Things Are is a beloved children’s book and one of the first books that many of us remember reading, or remember having read to us. Very many parents favor this book to read to their children because they feel that it teaches an important lesson. The surface-level appeal of the book is in its adorable illustrations and whimsical themes. But underneath all of the cute imagery, there is a deeper lesson. This is what gives children’s books such longevity: not the cutesy imagery or the clever rhymes, but the communication of a profound underlying theme. There’s always something more underneath the surface of good children’s literature.
Where The Wild Things Are is very short, at 338 words. The plot is simple. A young boy, named Max, dresses himself in a wolf costume and runs amok through his house. He is so destructive that his parents send him to bed and refuse him dinner. After he goes to bed, his room begins to transform. It turns from a bedroom to a wild jungle. Soon, Max finds that his bedroom has become a remote island where the Wild Things dwell. He puts the Wild Things in order by intimidating them, and then says, “Let the wild rumpus begin!” The wild rumpus is a romp where Max plays the king of the Wild Things. There are a number of pictures of Max playing with his subjects. Then Max becomes homesick and decides to leave and go back to his bedroom. There, he discovers that he finally has a hot dinner.
So what does it mean? This is a personal interpretation of mine, and highly subjective, but I think that there’s a metaphor under there about taming one’s emotions. Max is acting destructively because he has not brought his emotions to heel. When he is sent to his room, his retreat to the island is a retreat to go within himself. The Wild Things are his own chaotic feelings of anger, stress, and frustration. When Max intimidates the Wild Things, this is him asserting control over himself and his emotions. When he takes control of the Wild Things, he is taking control of himself. The ensuing “wild rumpus” is Max not only controlling his emotions, but learning to enjoy them. The emotions are not bad, per se, just out of control. As long as he has control over his emotions, they are perfectly fine to have, and he can even take some jouissance in them.
This answers the question of why Where The Wild Things Are is still read after all these decades, and why one occasionally sees even adults wearing Where The Wild Things Are t shirts. One of the first things every child should learn is how to control one’s own emotions. Because Where The Wild Things Are speaks to this very basic childhood experience, it is fixed indelibly in the minds of many people. If your first bed time story was Where The Wild Things Are, it probably stuck with you. On a deep, subconscious level, it speaks to something that we all went through as kids.