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Posts Tagged ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

My other highlight from the Royal Wedding was the trees that were brought into the nave of Westminster Abbey. It wasn’t just that they beautified the interior of the Abbey, like an oversized bunch of carefully arranged flowers; it was the magical sense they created that by entering into this building you were actually going out into another completely different world.

I’ve always loved this kind of illusion. It demonstrates how going inside can sometimes take you outside; how fixing your glance on something small can sometimes make your vision much broader. It’s like a metaphor for the power of the imagination itself, which uses something ordinary to transport you somewhere extraordinary. The very act of reading, for example – so still, so stationary, so solitary – is to float up into another world, or fall down into a rabbit-hole of adventure.

The trees in Westminster Abbey made me think of one of my favourite childhood books, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, where the inner walls of Max’s bedroom are transformed into the treescape of a terrifying jungle. And the wallpaper in David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell to Earth that turned his sitting room into an autumnal forest. And Lucy clambering through the wardrobe as the coats turned into leaves and branches and the darkness opened out into the forest snow of Narnia. And Dr Who stepping into the Tardis.

My favourite example of this kind of imaginative inversion is St Francis of Assisi’s Portiuncula. This is the little medieval chapel that once sat in the forest in the plain below Assisi. But they cut down the trees and built an enormous basilica over the entire chapel. So now you leave the streets, walk into the Church of St Mary of the Angels, and instead of being ‘inside’ you are transported ‘outside’ to the forest glade surrounding the chapel. Every time I have been there I have been struck with child-like wonder.

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Children’s stories can be set in the real world or in a fantasy world. But the best stories, for me, always involved the discovery of an alternative world just at the edge of everyday reality. It was the discovery itself that provided the greatest excitement, and my curiosity and wonder were stirred up above all by point of intersection between the two worlds – the threshold itself.

Classic examples of this are the rabbit hole that takes Alice into her wonderland; the tornado that sweeps Dorothy away to meet the Wizard of Oz; and the wardrobe that leads to Narnia. It’s for the same reason that I continue to love time-travel films.

San Francisco - Mission District: Balmy Alley - The Missing Page from Where the Wild Things Are by wallyg.

One of my favourite books as a child was Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. When the new film version was in production I was disappointed to hear that the director Spike Jonze had chosen to alter the crucial ‘threshold’ moment, the moment of transition.

In the book, little Max storms off to his room in a huff, and the bedroom itself gradually dissolves into the Land of the Wild Things. The walls, the ceiling, the bedposts – they slowly transform themselves into the enchanted forest. So the distance between his ordinary reality and this alternative world is felt to be paper-thin.

In the film, Max escapes down the street, through a broken fence (which becomes the symbolic threshold), to a boat waiting on the shore. The new land feels like it is out there rather than just beside or within the strange world we call the real one.

But it’s a beautiful film. More like a poem or a meditation on childhood than a movie. It captures something about the mood of childhood and the hugeness of the questions we face there. It transports you, with Max, back into those primal experiences of the world that never really disappear.

Where the Wild Things Are by Skinned Mink.

I don’t often link to film reviews, because so many of them are disposable – and they give away too much plot. This Empire review, by Dan Jolin, is a thought-provoking meditation in its own right.

I suppose that midnight on New Year’s Eve – and in this case the eve of a new decade – is one of those imaginative thresholds that even we adults can continue to appreciate. And it’s one of the clearest forms of time-travel.

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