Neil Gaiman on Maurice Sendak

Wired's Geeta Dayal got a lovely remembrance of Maurice Sendak from Neil Gaiman. Sendak died yesterday.

As a parent, I read Where the Wild Things Are to my children. But [my daughter] Holly’s favorite was Outside, Over There, and I must have read it to her hundreds of times, perhaps thousands of times, marveling at Sendak’s economy of words, his cruelty, his art...

“What I loved, what I always responded to, was the feeling that Sendak owed nothing to anyone in the books that he made. His only obligation was to the book, to make it true. His lines could be cute, but there was an honesty that transcended the cuteness.

Too many parents and too many writers of children’s books don’t respect the fact that kids know a great deal and suffer a great deal.

I was 11 or 12, and had been given a small allowance by my parents to buy my littlest sister, who did not read, books, if I would read them to her. I loved books and reading aloud. It was liberating, transgressive and a dream come to life: I understood the nakedness, could not understand why all the chefs were Oliver Hardy but loved that all the chefs were Oliver Hardy. Years later I discovered Little Nemo in Slumberland, and In The Night Kitchen came into focus.

Remembering Maurice Sendak


  1. Terry Gross’s 2011 interview with Sendak, which she excerpted on Tuesday’s show is deeply moving. The last seven minutes are as profound a portrayal of what it means to face death so overflowing with love and gratitude and sadness and unmoved in one’s atheism. I’ve excerpted some choice bits below, but it is really worth listening to, to hear the emotion in his voice.

    TG: We’ve talked before about how, you, you know, you’re Jewish but you’re very secular, you don’t believe in god, you don’t…
    MS: No, I don’t.
    TG: Yeah, and I think having friends who die, getting older, getting closer towards the end of life tests people’s faith and it also tests people’s atheism. It sounds like you’re atheism is staying strong.
    MS: Yes. I’m not unhappy about becoming old. I’m not unhappy about what must be. It makes me cry only when I see my friends go before me. And life gets emptied.

    TG: What are your physical restrictions like. Can you walk OK? Can you get around?
    MS: No. I can’t walk OK. I’d love to walk. I’ve been doing that since my 70’s when I had my first coronary. I have heart trouble and I’ve had a very hard time after Eugene died and I was very sick and I thought I would die and I came back to do Bumbalardy. I have nothing but praise now, really, for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. I cry a lot because they die and I can’t stop them. They leave me. And I love them more. But I have my young people here, four of them, and they look at me as though I’m somebody who knows everything, poor kids, if they only knew how little I know. But obviously I give off something that they trust, because they’re all intelligent. Oh god there are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.

    TG: When I heard you had a book coming out I thought what a good excuse to call up Maurice Sendak and have a chat.
    MS: Yes. That’s what we always do, isn’t it?
    TG: Yeah. It is.
    MS: It’s what we’ve always done. Thank god we’re still around to do it.
    TG: Yes.
    MS: And almost certainly I’ll go before you go so I won’t have to miss you. And I don’t know if I’ll do another book or not, but it doesn’t matter. I’m a happy old man.  I will cry my way all the way to the grave.

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