Last week on my birthday we went to Madison to see the amazing film version of Maurice Sendak's 1963 Caldecott winning children's book Where the Wild Things Are. I was mesmerized by the visuals, and charmed by the child who portrayed Max. Unlike Ralphie in A Christmas Story, who is forced by his mother to wear a pink bunny suit, and is the image of misery, Max wears his wolf suit proudly. He is a wolf, a wild child, king of the wild things. I was intrigued by the way Dave Eggers and the other writers built on the basic story, giving it an even more universal appeal. Who hasn't been angry at the slights and limitations of his or her life? Who hasn't wanted to clobber her tormentors? Who hasn't wanted to start a rumpus?
All this led me to remembering my youngest sister, Mary. She was a sweet child, though she and my youngest brother, who was only a little over a year younger, got into plenty of trouble. "Let the wild rumpus start!" could have been their motto for several years. At any rate, in 1960 Santa brought her a flannel tiger suit. Perhaps Mother had been reading Winnie the Pooh, or maybe it had something to do with Kellogg's Tony the Tiger, or even the Esso gasoline ads that promised to "put a tiger in your tank." Mary loved her tiger suit, which at first was too large, so that the feet flopped. She wore it to sleep in. She wore it to play in. She wore it every day, everywhere, until finally she either outgrew it or it fell to rags. Mary earned her nickname, Tiger, a name she answered to her entire life.
I wonder if Sendak had a child in an animal suit?