Maurice Sendak
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: Fantasy, HiLo Heroes

His reputation as a subversive children’s book author-illustrator has everything to do with Where the Wild Things Are (1963) and the frequently banned In the Night Kitchen (1970). But devoted fans and troubled critics alike tend to underestimate MAURICE SENDAK (born 1928). Sure, the monsters in the former book (who were inspired by Polish-Jewish relatives with Old World mannerisms) are both lovable and scary; while Mickey, the protagonist of the latter, is a naked boy shoved into an oven by Hitler-moustached cooks. But all fairy tales are unheimlich; Sendak’s particular brand of uncanny is more sophisticated. Whether for Robert Graves’s children’s story, The Big Green Book (1962), for example, or his own Nutshell Library, his illustrations are charmingly innocent; yet, like the innocent-looking inmates from a WWII prison-camp movie, Sendak is on a mission of escape and sabotage. Many of his illustrations are intertextual — i.e., they’re wormholes leading out of the text. (His Big Green Book drawings slyly reference Beatrix Potter’s Weltanschauung; elsewhere, he visually quotes Blake’s engravings and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s photos.) Meanwhile, the mise en scène of Wild Things and Night Kitchen is disruptive. At some level, Sendak’s readers get the impression that everyday life is a prison camp from which they must escape; what troubles parents is being forced into the role of camp Kommandant.


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Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011), and editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.