Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Allusion and intertext in two children's classics

Well, if it's good enough for classical poetry it's good enough for children's books. But I can't claim much credit for spying this -- my youngest daughter, on being read Maurice Sendak's Where the wild things are (1963) for the first time, pointed to one particular wild thing and exclaimed 'It's a Gruffalo!' I can see her point. (I think the wild thing in question is the one on the right.)

Not very telling, you might think, because monsters in children's books might be thought to have to follow some very basic and general parameters. No wonder that sometimes they resemble on another. Here, by way of comparison is the cover of Donaldson and Scheffler's The Gruffalo (1999): (You might want to compare the cover of the US edition, in which the Gruffalo seems rather more hidden behind a tree. Is this to make the book more exciting? Or is the monster too scary for open display in US bookshops?)

But then we read on and came to this description of the wild things (p.9):
And when he came to the place where the wild things are they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.
Anyone who has read The Gruffalo as many times as we have will surely spot the allusion made there in a very strict poetic metre to Sendak's looser but poeticised prose. In the later work, the Gruffalo himself also has 'terrible tusks and terrible claws', not to mention 'terrible teeth in his terrible jaws'. It is not beyond credibility, surely, that this is a deliberate reminiscence of Sendak's classic [1]. Whereas the wild things are, we are encouraged to think, some kind of imaginative projection of the hero Max's anger and exuberance, the Gruffalo is initially the creative imagination of the hero in the later book, a mouse, designed to scare away various predators. But the mouse's creation turns out to be real, and this creates yet another creature to outwit.

[1] One of the reviewers on the page, 'humptydumpty', seems to agree, as does the review from Publishers' Weekly, cited here. For similar claims about Sendak's influence, see here.

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