As people who have paid attention to the beginning of Fantasia know, there is a variety of music called “absolute music” abroad in the world. This music is opposed to “programme” music, which is music that tells a story or is a dance or is meant to present a specific scene to the listener’s ear. Absolute music has no programme. It is music. Nothing but. This is the sort of music that gives us Bach’s Toccata and Fugue:
When the new Where the Wild Things Are film came out, I was dubious about this. Of course, to make a five-to-ten-minute picture book into a film, things will be fleshed out and changed (see Shrek and A Night at the Museum for examples). However, I heard that some people were pleased with this film precisely for the reasons I wouldn’t be: It deals with “issues”, apparently.
How can a book that is absolute story deal with issues?
Maurice Sendak’s masterpiece of childhood imagination is such an excellent book because it really deals with no issue, with the possible exception of “When you’re done your adventures, someone will love you, anyway, and supper may still even be warm.” But that’s the last page of the book. The bulk of the book has nothing to do with Max’s psyche or the character of any individual Wild Thing. The bulk of the book is the story of Max sailing away to Where the Wild Things Are, going on the Wild Rumpus, and being crowned King of All Wild Things, being The Most Fierce Wild Thing of All.
Max is not particularised in any way. We know nothing of his home life save that one night he got up to mischief of one sort or another and that he has a mother. Where does he go to school? Does he have a father? What city does he live in? What’s his neighbourhood like? Does he have many friends?
Sendak tells us none of these things. This is because Where the Wild Things Are in its pure, unadulterated state is an absolute story, with no “issues” or anything surrounding it. It is, therefore, universal. You are Max. Your son is Max. You daughter is Max. Max is any and every child who ever got sent to his’er room for being troublesome and proceeded to imagine whilst there. Any of us could be Max. Any of us could go to Where the Wild Things Are and be home in time for a warm supper. It is a story of the imagination, of the flights the mind of a child can go on.
So to answer the questions above: Where do/did you go to school? Do you have a father? What city do you live in? What’s your neighbourhood like? Do you have many friends? Once you have answered those things, you will find the context of Max. Once you have answered those things, you will have found the psychology of Max.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Wild Rumpus to start.