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Posts tagged “Maurice Sendak

Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman

Hansel-and-Gretel_Gaiman J.R.R. Tolkien memorably asserted that there is no such thing as writing “for children” and Maurice Sendak similarly scoffed that we shouldn’t shield young minds from the dark. It’s a sentiment that Neil Gaiman — one of the most enchanting and prolific writers of our time, a champion of the creative life, underappreciated artist, disciplined writer, and sage of literature — not only shares, in contemplating but also enacts beautifully in his work. More than a decade after his bewitching and widely beloved Coraline, Gaiman returns with another terrific embodiment of this ethos — his adaptation of the Brothers Grimm classic Hansel & Gretel (public library), illustrated by Italian graphic artist Lorenzo Mattotti, the talent behind Lou Reed’s adaptation of The Raven.

Hansel-and-Gretel_gaiman_2The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm have attracted a wealth of reimaginings over their long history, including interpretations as wide-ranging as those by David Hockney in 1970, Edward Gorey in 1973, and Philip Pullman in 2012. But Gaiman’s is decidedly singular — a mesmerizing rolling cadence of language propelling a story that speaks to the part of the soul that revels in darkness but is immutably drawn to the light, that listens for the peculiar crescendo where the song of the dream becomes indistinguishable from the scream of the nightmare

Hansel-and-Gretel_Gaiman_3With stark subtlety, Mattotti’s haunting visual interpretation amplifies the atmosphere that Gaiman so elegantly evokes. Gaiman says of the work:

“I think if you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up. I think it is really important to show dark things to kids — and, in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back, tell them you can win. Because you can — but you have to know that.

Hansel-and-gretel_Gaiman_4And for me, the thing that is so big and so important about the darkness is [that] it’s like in an inoculation… You are giving somebody darkness in a form that is not overwhelming — it’s understandable, they can envelop it, they can take it into themselves, they can cope with it.

And, it’s okay, it’s safe to tell you that story — as long as you tell them that you can be smart, and you can be brave, and you can be tricky, and you can be plucky, and you can keep going.”


Maurice Sendak

Maurice Bernard Sendak (June 10, 1928 – May 8, 2012) was an American writer and illustrator of children’s literature. He was best known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, first published in 1963.

Sendak was born in Brooklyn, to Polish Jewish immigrant parents Sadie and Philip Sendak. Sendak described his childhood as a “terrible situation” because of his extended family’s dying in The Holocaust, which he says exposed him at an early age to death and the concept of mortality. His love of books began at an early age when he developed health problems and was confined to his bed. He decided to become an illustrator after watching Walt Disney’s film Fantasia (1940), at the age of twelve.

One of his first professional commissions was to create window displays for the toy store F.A.O. Schwarz. His illustrations were first published in 1947 in a textbook titled Atomics for the Millions by Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidinoff. He spent much of the 1950s illustrating children’s books written by others before beginning to write his own stories. His older brother Jack Sendak also became an author of children’s books, two of which were illustrated by Maurice in the 1950s.

Sendak gained international acclaim after writing and illustrating Where the Wild Things Are. The book tells the story of Max, who one evening plays around his home making “mischief” in a wolf costume. As punishment, his mother sends him to bed without supper. In his room, a mysterious, wild forest and sea grows out of his imagination, and Max sails to the land of the Wild Things. The Wild Things are fearsome-looking monsters, but Max proves to be the fiercest, conquering them by “staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once”, and he is made “the king of all wild things”, dancing with the monsters in a “wild rumpus”. However, he soon finds himself lonely and homesick and returns home to his bedroom where he finds his supper waiting for him, still hot. The book’s depictions of fanged monsters concerned some parents when it was first published, as his characters were somewhat grotesque in appearance.

The story was supposed to be that of a child who, after a tantrum, is punished in his room and decides to escape to the place that gives the book its title, the “land of wild horses”. Shortly before starting the illustrations, Sendak realized he did not know how to draw horses and, at the suggestion of his editor, changed the wild horses to the more ambiguous “Wild Things”, a term inspired by the Yiddish expression “Vilde chaya”, used to indicate boisterous children. He replaced the horses with caricatures of his aunts and uncles, whom he had spent much time creating in his youth as an escape from their chaotic weekly visits to his family’s Brooklyn home.

In 1983, the Walt Disney Studio conducted a series of CGI tests created by Glen Keane and John Lassiter using as their subject Where the Wild Things Are. The live-action film version was directed by Spike Jonze, and was released on October 16, 2009. Sendak was one of the producers for the film.

Sendak died in the morning of May 8, 2012, in Danbury, Connecticut, from complications of a stroke. In its obituary, The New York Times called Sendak “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century.” Author Neil Gaiman remarked, “He was unique, grumpy, brilliant, gay, wise, magical and made the world better by creating art in it.”