For this year's horror quest, as usual, I have been going afield, wondering just what falls under the umbrella of "horror". One question I asked myself is: what is the first time we encounter "horror"? And for me, the answer would probably be Maurice Sendak's 1963 picture book, "Where the Wild Things Are".
The obvious caveat to this is that this is a thirty-six page long children's book, and that the fear is framed in such a way that we are assured, almost as soon as we read it, that the Wild Things are not too harmful. Max silences them and conquers them with a stare. But this is a book meant to be read to children as young as three or four, and meant to be read by children as young as four or five. Even as an adult, the figures are grotesque and disturbing, contorted in a way that is unsettling for reasons that are hard to explain. We probably don't remember what it was like the first time we were shown the book as children. And it is even harder to imagine what this book was like to the first children exposed to it, suddenly facing surrealistic monsters and time dilation and cannibalism.
The book obviously has some very Freudian background. Max, like the intended audience, is right at the age where he is learning to control his emotions, and to consider others. Interestingly, his mother is only mentioned, not seen, and other people are never shown. Max is living in his own world, and it is the "Wild Things" that are his first social contact. The Freudian impact of his statement to his mother "I'LL EAT YOU UP" doesn't need to be explicated. There are a lot of undertones in a book that is only thirty six pages long.
But the part of this book that struck me as most importance in discussing it as a work of horror is the idea of integration. Throughout its history, and depending on the era and the creator, horror has been used to either enforce or deconstruct prevailing moralities. This book, both because of the age group it was written for, and the time it was written, shows a straight-forward tale of integration. Max learns to master his urges and returns to society. I also found it very interesting that this book came out in 1963, presumably shortly before the Kennedy Assassination, and the ending of the era of optimistic integration in American culture. Like another, quite different work from the same era, the book comes from a brief window in America culture where the frightening and surreal could be presented, but just as quickly be integrated.