Review: The Wild Things by Dave Eggers

The Wild Things is easily the best book ever adapted from a movie that was adapted from a picture book — but it also succeeds in its own right. Dave Eggers has written a novel that is deeply imaginative, slightly strange, occasionally dark, and ultimately touching. Keep reading for our take and a chance to win a furry copy of the book.

On some level, we know the story. (Weren’t we all exposed to Maurice Sendak’s Caldecott winner in childhood?) And the world Sendak evokes is so gripping that it is easy to forget that the original book was built around nine sentences. Eggers, however, has produced a work of 300 pages that naturally includes many, many more sentences. He uses the original for inspiration, but leaps off to create a world of its own.

There is still a wild boy named Max, of course, and he still bites his mother. Max still visits an island inhabited by Wild Things. But before we meet one of the monsters, we spend time in Max’s home. We learn that Max has a sister who has grown too old for the games they once played, and we are introduced to his mother’s younger boyfriend, whom Max is not prepared to accept. When confronted with changes in his actual life, a place filled with Wild Things seems satisfactory by comparison.

On the island, Max is still a king, and he still leads the Things in a wild rumpus. But where Sendak’s monsters are distinct mostly for the way they are illustrated, each of Eggers’ monsters has a unique voice and personality. And where Sendak’s readers have the perspective to understand that Max is dreaming, in Eggers’ story, everything — no matter how strange — is all too real. When the Things suggest they’re ready to eat Max, it’s a threat we can believe.

With Sendak’s original, part of what works so well is the style in which it’s drawn. Anyone who has seen the trailer for Spike Jonze’s film knows that’s true for the movie as well. So too with Eggers’ adaptation. The writing is crisp and alive, and it works, perhaps better than an adaptation ever should.

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And now for the contest: What other children’s book classic should be adapted into a movie? Tell us which one and why — and comment with your answer. Our five favorite responses win a limited-edition fake-fur covered copy of The Wild Things. (To our knowledge, no actual Wild Things were harmed in the process).