Friday, October 30, 2009

Wild things at heart

A long time ago, before I knew either one of them, Spike Jonze and Maurice Sendak began talking about a film adaptation of his classic picture book Where The Wild Things Are. When Spike got started on it, he called me up and asked me to co-write the screenplay. I had never written a screenplay; hell, I'd never read a screenplay. But I said yes, because these two people were among my favourite artists on earth.

So we got started, with the consent and under the watchful eye of Maurice, trying to make 10 lines of text into a feature-length movie. A couple of years into the process, Maurice called me, saying that there had been talk of someone doing a novelisation of the book-cum-screenplay. He didn't want some new guy doing it, so he asked me if I'd want the job. I readily said yes, partly because he intimidates me and partly because, at that point, Spike and I had discussed so many ideas about childhood generally, and about this mysterious island of giant manic-depressive beasts in particular, and I knew only a few of them would make it in the movie.

So the book, I thought, would be a place where I could explore these and other ideas, and where I could bend the story toward my own interests a bit (the movie is much more Spike's than mine). Along the way the novel diverged significantly from the movie, and from Maurice's book, but all three share a basic outline – boy is confused about a home and world out of control, boy acts out, boy leaves home and becomes king of a herd of sentient beasts. And all three benefit from the pure, uncompromised vision of childhood that Maurice Sendak espoused and put on paper, again and again, in a stunning body of work that becomes more impressive and singular with every passing decade. He is the greatest living writer and illustrator of books for or about children, period, bar none, end of discussion. He also has a dog named Herman.

- Dave Eggers,

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