With more than a soupcon of reservation, I decided to read Dave Eggers’ piece in the newest New Yorker. Truth be told, if my boss hadn’t been out of town allowing me to sneak off with her copy, I doubt I would have bothered to read it at all. But with the fake folks in Telluride and a lot of commuting time to kill, I purloined the magazine and snooped through the contents.
The Eggers selection is excerpted from his forthcoming book “The Wild Things,” titled, I believe, after the popular Tone Loc song. The book is a long form (300pgs) adaptation of the film Where the Wild Things Are that he and Spike Jonze adapted from the children’s book of the same name. Egger’s book will be released fifteen days before the film on October 1, 2009, giving ample time for critics to comment, “I like the book better” at the movie’s premiere. The book itself will be available with, I assume by virtue of shaving, or without fur, as per reader’s preference.
I’ve expressed concern about this endeavor before. Adaptations of beloved children’s books have not been going well for a while. Disasters like The Cat in the Hat, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (might have been okay if Count Olaf hadn’t been doing a really bad Jim Carey impersonation the whole movie), and the crimes of one Tim Burton (the Alice in Wonderland trailer makes me wonder if he’s ever read the books he adapts).
I’ve always held to the personal belief that great books should remain great books and that film’s should mind their own business by sticking original screenplays. Seriously, make as many Shreks as you want, I really don’t mind. But since we live in a world where produces won’t invest in a project that doesn’t guarantee a return, we’ll continue to see good books snatched into celluloid, because no matter how awful The Scarlet Letter was, there were still enough people wanting to see Demi Moore in a bodice to make a little green, go figure. I do concede that there are exceptions. Coraline I feel is a very good movie adaptation of the Neil Gaiman children’s book. (Claire, if you are reading this I want to reiterate that Tim Burton had nothing to do with Coraline or James and the Giant Peach, and Henry Selick rules. Whoop.)
Back to the Eggers Story
I started reading the selection expecting to hate it. Experience had taught me to expect that Mr. Eggers was just appropriating more stories that he didn’t properly have the right to tell. I’ve noticed that about his work. I was anticipating an agenda-ed story that would have nothing to do with Maurice Sendak’s original story save the main character’s name. What I found, however, was something more thoughtful and measured. There was a tone of respect. Part of what makes the original children’s book so powerful is the space Sendak has created for the character’s psychology. Max’s mischief is inspired by and informed through the control exercised upon him by his mother, it’s relatable and easy to empathize with. Eggers, instead of crushing this aspect, builds around it keeping that sort of soul. The way Eggers connects the dots Sendak had created with his 334-word story was not at all about jazzing up something to make it pop, in the way I had feared it might. I must say I surprisingly enjoyed it. Sure, maybe I was drunk on the rush of heisting my boss’ New Yorker that made it seem better than I had expected. My one quibble being that the original mentions that Max tames the wild things by staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once, Eggers for some unknown reason omits this. I will also note that the excerpt is only ten or so pages long, leaving 290 more for Eggers to commit bibliocide.
Later I found this and felt more at ease:
It seems that in the case of Where the Wild Things Are, as was true in Coraline, the author is on board and involved which I hope is a lesson to Hollywood, and reason enough to leave the works of dead authors alone. Please.
Also, here is the newest Where the Wild Things Are trailer:
Paul, you disappoint me; I was gleefully rubbing my hands together in anticipation of a good ripping. As you may or may not know, Dave Eggers is the Official Punching Bag (TM) of Indichik.com. Oh well, I’ll have to just link to your post and do the ripping myself.