Synopses & Reviews
The Wild Things
— based loosely on the storybook by Maurice Sendak and the screenplay cowritten with Spike Jonze — is about the confusions of a boy, Max, making his way in a world he can't control.
His father is gone, his mother is spending time with a younger boyfriend, his sister is becoming a teenager and no longer has interest in him. At the same time, Max finds himself capable of startling acts of wildness: he wears a wolf suit, bites his mom, and can't always control his outbursts. During a fight at home, Max flees and runs away into the woods. He finds a boat there, jumps in, and ends up on the open sea, destination unknown. He lands on the island of the Wild Things, and soon he becomes their king. But things get complicated when Max realizes that the Wild Things want as much from him as he wants from them.
Funny, dark, and alive, The Wild Things is a timeless and time-tested tale for all ages.
"Seeing how the beasts echo Max's inner turmoil is perhaps the cleverest aspect of The Wild Things....As he showed in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What Is the What, Eggers is brilliant at portraying the exuberance and chaos of a young boy's heart and mind." San Francisco Chronicle
"All in all, Dave Eggers's The Wild Things is intermittently amusing but far more conventional than it should be. Eight- to 12-year-olds will like the book, but older readers — those 'children of all ages' — won't be starting a wild rumpus over it." The Washington Post
"Eggers has written a book for readers of all ages, without dumbing down his prose. But his highest achievement is in having found a fresh way to tell us a story we already know so well, about the monstrous forces of love and hate that mark every childhood — and pursue us howling into adulthood." Steve Almond, The Boston Globe
"[S]sometimes weird, sometimes dark, and full of wonder....Like the original, this is far from the cosy world kids are often fed, but it has real heart — Eggers uses simple but superbly effective prose to suggest that childhood has to be lived without cosseting for us to grow up with any semblance of a normal personality." The Independent (U.K.)
"[N]ot only a wonderful read, but a lovely product....From the cover illustrations by Rachel Sumpter to the quality paper and printing, to the informative postscript by the author/publisher, this does Sendak's original picture book proud." Montreal Gazette
Max is a rambunctious eight-year-old whose world is changing around him: His father is absent, his mother is increasingly distracted, and his teenage sister has outgrown him. Sad and angry, Max dons his wolf suit and makes terrible, ruinous mischief, flooding his sister’s room and driving his mother half-crazy. Convinced his family doesn’t want him anymore, Max flees home, finds a boat and sails away. Arriving on an island, he meets strange and giant creatures who rage and break things, who trample and scream. These beasts do everything Max feels inside, and so, Max appoints himself their king. Here, on a magnificent adventure with these funny and complex monsters, Max can be the wildest thing of all.
In this visionary adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic work, Dave Eggers brings an imaginary world vividly to life, telling the story of a lonely boy navigating the emotional journey away from boyhood.
The Wild Things — based loosely on the storybook by Maurice Sendak and the screenplay co-written with Spike Jonze — is about the confusions of a boy, Max, making his way in a world he can't control.
About the Author
Dave Eggers is the author of such bestselling works as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (a Pulitzer Prize finalist), You Shall Know Our Velocity, and What Is the What. He is the founder of McSweeney's, an independent publishing house, and currently teaches writing in San Francisco at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit tutoring center and writing school for children that he cofounded with his wife, the novelist Vendela Vida.
Reading Group Guide
1. Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story, first published in 1963, is extremely brief, containing only nine sentences, just over 300 words, and a series of wonderfully expressive illustrations. How is Eggers able to get inside such a compressed story and extend it into a novel? In what ways does the novel stay close to Sendak’s story? In what ways does it imaginatively expand upon Sendak’s story?
2. What are the family dynamics that push Max into running away? What is the source of Max's anger?
3. When Max bites his mother, we are told that “Max had never bitten her before. He was scared. His mom was scared. They saw each other anew” [p. 77]. Why is this such a powerful and frightening moment in the novel? In what ways is it the appropriate action that leads to Max’s running away?
4. How does The Wild Things illuminate the challengers families face today?
5. The narrator says that Claire “had adopted a tone of perpetual dissatisfaction and annoyance with everything Max did, and with most things that existed in the world” [p. 4]. How does Max’s own stance toward life differ from that of his 14-year-old sister? How is the adult world depicted in the novel?
6. What fantasies does Max’s life among the beasts fulfill? What does he find there that he was denied at home?
7. How should the beasts be understood? Are they projections of Max’s fantasy life—aspects of his character or unconscious? Are they manifestations of his own uncivilized, destructive urges, his wish to be an animal?
8. When Max says that he feels responsible for ruining the island, Alexander tells him: “You really think you wrecked this island? You think you’re that powerful? That you’re the reason everyone is happy or sad?” [p. 262]. Where else does Max feel his actions have such enormous impact?
9. In what ways are the beasts both dangerous to Max and protective of him? How do they regard him? How do their feelings toward him change over the course of the novel?
10. After the war he started goes terribly awry, Max feels that “everything he did, at home or here on this island, caused permanent damage” [p. 209]. What are the parallels between Max’s destructive behavior at home and on the island?
11. What is the significance of Max’s relationships with Carol and Katherine? How does he relate differently to each of these characters?
12. Why was Max’s final act on the island necessary? What is the symbolic significance of this act?
13. Children’s books often offer a mixture of fantasy and moral or ethical instruction. Does The Wild Things have an implied moral? What does Max learn from his experience with the beasts?
14. In what sense is Max an archetypal boy? How might understanding him lead to a greater understanding of the human condition?
15. Dave Eggers co-wrote (with Spike Jonze) the screenplay for the film version of Where The Wild Things Are. If you have seen the film, how does the novel differ from the movie? Which form seems closer to Sendak’s original story? How do the film and novel compliment each other?
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“Eggers, in this funny and touching novelization of Maurice Sendak’s picture book, is brilliant at portraying the exuberance and chaos of a young boy’s mind and heart.” —San Francisco Chronicle
The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Dave Eggers’ marvelous new novel, The Wild Things, based on Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story, Where the Wild Things Are.