Conversations with the legendary children’s book creator, along with “companion guides” exploring the artist’s psyche and works.
This text expands longtime Rolling Stone contributing editor Cott’s (Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview, 2014, etc.) 1976 Stone interview with Sendak, which Cott reworked in his collection of children’s author profiles, Pipers at the Gates of Dawn (1983). The author interweaves discussions that followed over the years with family photographs, aesthetic influences, and book art in the first publication with the benefit of distance since Sendak’s death in 2012. Cott examines his subject's relationships with relatives—particularly the artist’s melancholy mother—and recurring themes and obsessions: babies, kidnapping, flying, falling, mortality, windows, and journeys. An overview of key titles follows, focusing on the enigmatic Outside Over There; Sendak described this conclusion to the trilogy that began with Where the Wild Things Are as “the last excavation of my soul.” Writing it helped vanquish lifelong demons. Cott is an erudite, sensitive observer, exceedingly well-prepared to engage readers on the title’s (and creator’s) mystique. Equally at ease probing Mozart’s views on death as he is the similarities between Sendak’s naked goblins and a 17th-century scene of frolicking putti, Cott’s thoughtful questions include quotes from luminaries ranging from Homer to Rumi. Sendak’s narrative featuring Ida, a girl who rescues her baby sister from the goblin’s underworld (as the depressed mother pines for the seafaring father), is expertly mined in separate chapters. Psychoanalyst Richard M. Gottlieb notes the artist’s gift for plots employing fantasy to manage rage, and Jungian analyst Margaret Klenck discusses art’s role in restoring one’s archetypal mother. Art historian Jane Doonan deconstructs design, style, and symbolism, while playwright Tony Kushner recounts his friend’s yearning for paradise. A continuous thread explores the complex interplay between “inside and outside” and the possibility that the story transpires in Ida’s imagination.
With minimal redundancy, the voices culminate to illuminate an extraordinarily rich picture book, provide fresh insight into human needs, and inspire appreciation for the rewards of looking closely.