Thursday, October 22, 2009

Too Scary for Children?

I've recently read that there has been some controversy concerning Spike Jonze's adaption of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book, Where the Wild Things Are. Apparently some parents are disturbed that the film is "too dark", "too scary" and "not suitable for children". Hmmmmmmm.

As a parent, I read Where the Wild Things Are over and over to my son when he was a small child. We loved the monsters, Max in his wolf costume and following Max's journey to the land of the Wild Things and back home again. It was and remains a favorite book. I haven't seen the Spike Jonze film yet but am anxious too, I want to see for myself how "dark" he made a book that wasn't very light to begin with.

I've been wondering what I would do if my son was still small enough to be scared by a film based after all on monsters and a little boy taking a journey by himself. Would I see the film first? Would I ask other parents or friends who have seen it what they thought? Would I reread the book with my son first and then explain the movie is someone taking the book and making it into something you can watch, like a dream? I would definitely ask my son if he was even interested in seeing the film. He was never a child who scared easily, might have been all those Grimm's fairy tales I read him.

Maybe it is the scariness of certain books that appeals to children and adults alike. Fairy tales like those collected and/or written by the Grimm's are certainly not fluffy Disney tampered tales. There is as much death, wickedness and sadness in fairy tales as any Greek legend but fairy tales somehow retain that child friendly feel about them. Orphans, step mothers who want you dead, malicious forest animals, broken hearts and monsters are all common and sometimes there is no happy ending. (Have you read the original Hans Christian Anderson book The Little Mermaid?) But still children and parents alike return to these stories generation after generation.

As a child my favorite books besides my cherished and dogeared collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales were books by rather "gothic" children's authors like Roald Dahl, or by cartoonist Charles Addams. I loved the conflict between good and evil, the triumph of bravery over cowardice and the reality that sometimes there just isn't a happy ending. To this day I can still recite from memory a dark children's poem I found in a book of nursery rhymes about 2 siblings who get lost in the forest and guess what...they die. The nursery rhyme book, yes a NURSERY rhyme book had a drawing of the children dead in the forest too. Dark, hell ya. Do I still have the book, hell ya.

So who is more disturbed by the "darkness", parents or children? And what does the author of Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Rendak have to say to those disturbed parents? Well you can read his response here.

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