Saturday, October 11, 2008

The child is father to the man

As a youngling I never got into Roald Dahl's books. I believe it had something to do with Quentin Blake's illustrations, which I found as attractive as a closet full of empty wire coat-hangers. I did read The Twits in grade six (no, not a class assignment), and vaguely remember that it just got weird, immersive though it was.

For me, and here we're talking grade one and two, the man was Bill Peet.

His illustrations had that entire inhabitable earthiness that I also found in Calvin and Hobbes and Winnie the Pooh and Pogo, though with Pogo I didn’t understand in the least what the characters were talking about. But that's beside the point, because it was their surrounding world which I wanted to inhabit. Like whenever Calvin and Hobbes (who I did understand; I had the 'collections' in book form) wandered through the woods and were at the creek; it was a landscape I inhabited. The same goes for a number of children's stories that I can't remember the names of, but the vivid mood of their worlds remain.

And then there was The One that now I have second thoughts about, or at least recognize some honest feelings I had about it as a child: Where the Wild Things Are.

No, it's not because its author and illustrator has revealed himself to be gay, having lived together with his fifty year partner, who was a psychoanalyst. No, it's not because one of his other books is one of the most widely banned from schools for showing the genitalia of the story's protagonist boy (a story which, by the by, I tried reading numerous times as a child and found it so not enchanting that it was as though some art-nouveau designer had his illustrations matched with the writing of some blurb writer from Sears catalogue).

It is because the book seems to be the love of Spike Jonze, who has made a movie of the book. Uhm, waste of time? I have no regard for his movies, to the point that if he takes something as the object of his affections, which was something that I had a liking for, I would then seriously question my liking for it. I think he makes a bigger ass of himself than M. Night Shyamalan. At least Shyamalan doesn't have that nasty sophisticated psychoanalytic slant which pretends to give Jonze's films credibility.

I want to be honest. Where the Wild Things Are has excellent illustrations that perhaps go beyond storybook illustration. It's like Henri Rousseau meets William Blake. Yes, inhabitable, and yes, a childhood favourite. Yet, and yet, there was something I vividly remember about this book. When it got to the ending, where the boy Max is back in his room and his soup is there, it left me with this hung-over empty feeling. I distinctly remember disliking how Max screams at his mother and it goes unresolved (this isn't to say I was some saint as a kid; I could throw a tantrum that would make Max look tame). There was something there that did not sit well. It's as though the story is about some kind of pre-adolescent transgression through determined isolation - like the discovery of masturbation. Which is something the films of Spike Jonze pursue with gimped, retarded relish.

I float that out there as 'thinking out loud'. I know and remember the way the book made me feel, and so I simply wonder.

No comments: