Books without Maps

Max’s Map to Where the Wild Things Are

My choice of music probably dates me, but that’s okay: I admit that I am a child of the 60’s. Click on the arrow to listen because I want you to have this song on your mind as you read my last post. I imagine that Max’s mother is singing this song to him as he returns home from his adventure:

“Wild thing…you make my heart sing…

You make everything


I said wild thing…

Wild thing…I think I love you

But I wanna know for sure

Come on, hold me tight

I love you.” Etc

These are not the most complex of lyrics, but then, the message is simple: Wild thing…I think I love you. In Where the Wild Things Are, poor Max feels so unloved. So he envisions another world where he can have a little fun, live by his own rules, and forget about his troubles.

Again, there’s no map to guide us to this world. Max’s journey is the hardest one to imagine because it’s such a personal, private, and inner odyssey. But nephew ET has stepped into the breach, and he insists that he’s got this covered. So…hand-drawn map. Check. Amateur guide. Check. Novice cartographers. Check. No problem (well, except that there is no compass either!)

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are Map
Original Artwork by “ET”

  A New Map of Where the Wild Things Are (2012)

Map Name  Where the Wild Things Are
Cartographer “ET” 
Artist/Colourist “KLEW”
Publication Date July 4, 2012
Physical Description Hand lettered, coloured in pencil crayon. Relief shown by hachures.
Size 21 cm wide x 28 cm high
Compass Not noted
Cartographic Elements On Wildland, Some topographical details, locations of bays, lakes, and rivers, some settlements, mountains, ocean showing waves. Other landmass devoid of any elements except for two rivers and lakes.
Decorative Elements Ship named Max with one small boy at the helm, sea monster, Wildland shows plants such as pineapple or palm tree. On mainland is a small house with coniferous trees.
Nomenclature Sparse: Island named Wildland; unidentified Ocean. Other land mass unnamed.
Donated to ImagiNation Blog July, 2012

*Thanks to Professor Found, of the Faculty of Environmental Studies and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, York University, whose map collection informed my knowledge of displaying information about maps July 23, 2012.

Interview with the Cartographer

Nancy: Why is there no compass on your map? 

ET: I thought Max was wild and that he didn’t need a compass just because of the kind of person he was.

Nancy: How did you do the lettering?

ET: I took it from the book because it would make the map look more like the book. Wildland is more colourful because that is where the adventure begins.

Nancy: Why do you think the author didn’t include a map?

ET: Because the author wants you to come up with your own story. The author wanted the reader to make it about his or her personal story, not just what he put on paper.

During a prolific sixty-five year career, Maurice Sendak wrote or illustrated more than 100 books and received numerous awards for his work. He was a first-generation American, born to poor Polish-Jewish immigrants. He lived through the Depression, and his family experienced unspeakable loss when their relatives in Europe were annihilated in the Holocaust. Maurice (or Morose as some people called him) used his own memories of childhood as inspiration for his work. He modelled his “Wild Things” on relatives, who visited him when he was ill (Wood 1) and wanted to “eat him up” (Rosenbach Memorial 1). His deep interest in childhood was “fuelled by going into therapy.” Because he believed that “the traditional portrayal of childhood was inaccurate, … he sought openly to confront children’s everyday fears and frustrations” (National Post 1). He examined both subjects when he wrote Where the Wild Things Are in 1963. You can listen to Sendak talk about his childhood and Where the Wild Things Are with NPR’s Terry Gross by clicking here.

There is no doubt that young Max is upset and frustrated. He has been mischievous, “his mother called him ‘WILD THING!’ and Max said ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP!’” (Sendak 5). Having argued and talked back to his mother, she sends him to bed without his supper. From the look on his face, it is easy to see that he is angry. His mother doesn’t consider his feelings or ask him what’s wrong—she just threatens him. In his life, he has no say, no power, and no agency. However, he does have the imagination to create a world where he can have all of those abilities. The trip that Max then takes is an emotional one and is a direct result of his agitated state. He doesn’t want to dwell on what just happened; he just wants to get away. So he calls up “an ocean…with a private boat…and he sail[s] off…to where the wild things are” (Sendak 13, 15).

"Let the wild rumpus start!"

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

In Deconstructing the Hero, Margery Hourihan suggests, “The wild things symbolize both the external ‘others’ and the hero’s inner fears and passions” (Hourihan 107). In this wild land, Max comes face to face with the monsters. Here, he wants to conquer and control the “wild things” because he lacks this ability and has no control over his own life. Here, where the wild things are, he has autonomy, he has power, and he has authority. He dominates the monsters with his eyes, with his command, “BE STILL” (Sendak 19), and with his crown and sceptre. During his short but enjoyable time with the wild things, Max wonders, “What do they have that I don’t?” Well, they know how to listen and how to control their emotions. They know how to howl at the moon, at the insanity of the world, and at the unfairness of life. They know how to live in the moment. They can laugh, have a good time, not take things too seriously, revel in the rumpus; and they can love.  These are skills or qualities that Max lacks, but they are necessary if he is going to grow up and navigate successfully in the adult world. Hourihan states, “We must all make the journey from childhood to adulthood and overcome the disabling doubts and terrors that beset us on the way” (Hourihan 107). In a way, Where the Wild Things Are is a healing text and could be part of what Freud calls “‘the talking cure’” (Crago 181). Hugh Crago says, “The basic idea of bibliotherapy is to…have a ‘reading therapist’ [suggest] a story which in some way bears on [a specific] problem” (Crago 184). This book, used as bibliotherapy, could help parents and children confront and discuss the “dark, dangerous and frequently rebellious” world of childhood (National Post 1).

As ET said in the interview, it’s personal: everyone’s journey is different. It is difficult to plot or map a journey of emotional growth and realization. We each have to find our own way. Well, even without a compass, we did it! We found our way ‘there and back again’. Thank you for joining KLEW, ET, and me on this journey into ImagiNation. I hope you have enjoyed the adventure and that you will look on every book (with or without a map) as being full of potential and possibility. And remember, as Alexander McCall Smith says, “Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives” (Smith, Love Over Scotland).

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Interesting to read the reasons for challenging/banning James and the Giant Peach.

Tween Book Blog

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl; illustrated by Quentin Blake

Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 978-0-375-81424-2

Reason for challenge/ban: Magic/witchcraft, communism advocacy, racism, drug/alcohol references, offensive language

Synopsis: After his parents are killed in a terrible rhinoceros accident, James Henry Trotter goes to live with his two horrible aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. The two women feel no affection for James and make him do most of their chores and sleep in a tiny room with a very small window. One day in the garden, James is met by a peculiar stranger who hands him a bag of magic worms, telling him that if he eats them, wonderful things will happen to him. Unfortunately, James trips over the roots of the old peach tree on the way to the house, spilling the contents of the bag and causing extraordinary things to happen. A peach begins to grow from…

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A Map of James’s Journey

When The Staple Singers sing “I’ll Take You There”, they are talking about Heaven. The videographer uses many pictures of people who are abjected because of poverty, racism, and tragedy. The message is that there is no safe haven on earth, and they will have to seek salvation and refuge in Heaven. James, too, lives in a terrible situation with two horrible aunts. He is an outsider, he doesn’t fit in, he is verbally and emotionally abused, he is unloved, and he needs to find a way out. He needs to find his own safe harbour and a better way of life.

Roald Dahl, author of James and the Giant Peach (1961), felt like an outsider as well. Although he was born in Wales, his mother maintained strong ties with her Norwegian homeland by speaking the language and taking the family home for annual holidays. The family lived in the English countryside but, while “Dahl was proud to be British and though he craved recognition and acceptance from English society, for most of his life he preferred to live outside its boundaries, making his own rules and his own judgements” (Sturrock 19). Biographer Donald Sturrock felt that “Roald was always an outsider, the child of Norwegian immigrants, whose native land would become for their son an imaginative refuge, a secret world he could always call his own” (Sturrock 20). When Roald was only three, his seven-year old sister Astri (his father’s favourite) died; then his father came down with pneumonia, lost interest in living, and died a month later. Interestingly, many of the central characters in his books have lost one or both parents, which Dahl at first denied as being true but then declared as being a “‘trick to get the reader’s sympathy’” (Sturrock 16). Dahl began his writing career by telling stories to his children. He had the uncanny ability “to mesmerize almost every child who crossed his path….[and] to recreate and understand the child’s point of view” (Sturrock 40).

Dahl certainly understands the child’s point of view in James and the Giant Peach. James journeys across the Atlantic to the United States with his fellow outcasts, without a plan and without a map. Perhaps the author thinks if his characters don’t have a map, then his readers shouldn’t have one. Perhaps he thinks that it is a well-travelled route, and we all know our way. Perhaps the route cannot be plotted. Well, my intrepid cartographer KLEW thinks differently; therefore, since she is coming with us on this adventure, here is her map to accompany us on the literary voyage.


James’s Journey in the Giant Peach – Original Artwork by “KLEW”

Interview with the Cartographer

Nancy: Tell me about your map. Why did you draw the Empire State Building and not the USA? 

KLEW: That is the main point of the story.

Nancy: What are the key features of your map?

KLEW: You’ll notice the two flags–they signify where James started and finished his journey. The Empire State is red and England is blue. Also, there is no water in the map because James and his insect companions flew over the water for much of the journey. I put the peach on top of the Empire State building because that was what happened in the book. Spot on!

Nancy: Why do you think the author didn’t include a map?

KLEW: Because everyone knows the route and where the travellers are going: England to New York.

Well, as KLEW said, everyone knows–except James and his insect shipmates. They don’t necessarily know where they are going, but anywhere is better than where they have been. The British Empire and its citizens have not been supportive of James. No Children’s Agency has stepped in to remove him from his abusive home. He has had a horrid life with Auntie Sponge and Auntie Spiker. The insects agree that “nothing could be worse than [his] desolate hilltop and those two repulsive aunts” (Dahl 44). James is an abject human being. In the Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva says, “The abject refers to the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other” (Powers as cited in Felluga 1). Kristeva uses the concept of death to demonstrate her idea:

A wound with blood and pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death—a flat encephalograph, for instance—I would understand, react, or accept. No, in true theatre, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being. (Powers 3 as cited in Felluga’s Introduction).

In other words, Auntie Sponge and Auntie Spiker revile their nephew James and refer to him as a “‘disgusting little beast’ or …[a] ‘filthy nuisance’ or… ‘miserable creature’” (Dahl 2). Aunt Spiker orders James to “get out of my sight, you disgusting little worm” (Dahl 9). However, they also want to keep James in their odd little family to do chores for them and to be an outlet for their wrath. Felluga explains this need to keep the abject close as an inescapable pull: “[W]e are, despite everything, continually and repetitively drawn to the abject” (Powers 29 as cited by Felluga 2). Despite the Aunties’ sickening need, James escapes.

The Empire State welcomes James and his insect friends.

Inside the giant peach pit, James finds a community of insects who are also abject creatures; and he is horrified. Just as his aunties reviled him, so he recoils in disgust from them. These insects are not normal-sized; they are “as large as a large dog” (Dahl 33). He meets an “Old-Green-Grasshopper”, “an enormous Spider”, “a giant Ladybug”, a Centipede and an Earthworm “reclining comfortably in curled-up positions”, and “something thick and white”—a Silkworm; and they are all “absolutely terrifying to behold” (Dahl 33-34). All of these abjected beings form a community. Although they all begin the journey with very poor opinions of themselves and they continually insult each other, they soon learn to find each other’s strengths. Together, they overcome obstacles on the journey. They each contribute to the group and learn to work together. In New York (the Empire State), the Empire State Building welcomes them by stretching its pinnacle up and embracing their peach craft. They arrive to great fanfare, and each claims happiness. In this re-imagined New World, their individual weaknesses are recognized as strengths. For example, although Earthworm is blind, is a “slitherer”, and a “slimy beast” (Dahl 37), New Yorkers praise him for his “lovely pink skin”, and he becomes a spokesperson for a women’s cosmetic company (Dahl 143). Change occurs because each creature is “recognized and loved by others” (Humphreys Lecture May 24). Dahl’s message is that change must begin inside each of us, but it is possible. Each of us must recognize and celebrate the good in ourselves. In doing so, we renegotiate our selves. By sharing, James and friends “create a new, re-imagined community” (Humphreys Lecture July 19). They look for and find their “Promised Land” (Dahl 57).

So, how do you draw a map of the journey to the Promised Land? Everyone has a different idea of his or her promised land. Every journey is different. The destination can be an imaginary place or concept, or it can be a real place on a map. In Genesis, God gave land to the Israelites and this land was called the Promised Land; the Mormons thought their Promised Land was the United States. Each of us are looking for the Promised Land, in one form or another. Some of us are looking to better ourselves, some are looking for a life of ease, and some want to leave lives of extreme hardship and difficulty and immigrate to a new land. Now, here is some Bruce Springsteen to take us home to…The Promised Land.

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