23 November 2011
I volunteer at a local elementary school, reading stories to preschool children once a week. My co-volunteer and I alternate weeks, so half of the time I get the privilege of pretending that I am a child and just enjoying a story that someone else is reading. This past week was one of those times.
The book of choice this week was Where the Wild Things Are, an award-winning story with memorable illustrations and a fairly simple story line. This story stands out in my mind, not due to any warm and fuzzy childhood memory, but because when I was in college it was set as an example of dangerous literature.
Dangerous, you might say; what could possibly be dangerous about a children's book, and a well-known one at that? I was taught that this story is problematic because Max, the protagonist, disobeys and disrespects his mother, and then instead of being properly contrite and facing his punishment, disappears from his room into a fantasy world. When he returns to his home after his adventures, he finds that his punishment - going to bed without supper - has been reversed and a hot meal is waiting for him. Clearly this book teaches children to disobey their parents and that actions do not really have consequences.
As I listened to this book being read aloud, I listened to this story with new ears and I began to wonder about the validity of the objections to this classic children's story. When I listened this time I heard the story from a very different perspective. I heard a story of a small boy who disobeyed and was punished, to be sure, who entered a fantasy world where he was king of all the land and had wild adventures, but who came back home because he missed the one "who loved him best of all." He came home to find his supper waiting for him, a clear indication that all was forgiven and that the one who loved him best of all was ready to forgive, forget, and move on.
Seen through this lens, this story sounds more like the biblical story of the prodigal son and less like an author's attempt at corrupting the youth. This sounds like a story of grace and mercy, things that I think are important to God. This sounds like a story of a boy who was dearly loved, since he knew exactly where to go when he was homesick. This sounds like a story of a parent who knew her child's frailties and loved him anyway. This sounds like the story of God, who loves us in spite of our weaknesses, who is ready and waiting to take us back when we realize how homesick we are and how we want to be with the one "who loves us best of all," who is willing to offer us forgiveness and a hot meal.