Wednesday 9 May 2012

A Little Immortality

Yesterday I caught an episode of Neil MacGregor's excellent Radio 4 series Shakespeare's Restless World. It focused on the plague outbreak of May 1603 - the worst to hit London since the Black Death. If Shakespeare had died in that epidemic, we would surely be living in a different world - one without Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Othello, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest (to name only the highlights). But Shakespeare also survived a major outbreak of plague in 1592. Had he died then, we would know him only as the author of Henry VI, perhaps the Comedy of Errors, Richard III, Venus and Adonis - little more than a footnote in the history of English literature... And then I heard the news of Maurice Sendak's death, which (rightly) got extensive coverage on radio and TV. Unsurprisingly, the emphasis was very much on Where the Wild Things Are. What if - heaven forbid - Sendak had died before he wrote Wild Things (not to mention In the Night Kitchen, Higglety Pigglety Pop! and Outside Over There)? Well, he wouldn't be such a giant figure, but he would surely have been remembered for those little masterpieces The Nutshell Library (Alligators All Around, One Was Johnny, Pierre and - my favourite - the lovely Chicken Soup with Rice). And, by that early stage of his career, Sendak had already written The Sign on Rosie's Door, and illustrated, beautifully, the Little Bear books of Else Holmelund Minarik. Enough there, surely, to achieve a little immortality.


  1. I'd completely forgotten about Chicken Soup with Rice - I loved that as a child.

    Brit Jnr has a few of these. We all love Alligators All Around but she's also unfortunately keen on In the Night Kitchen, which in my opinion is a complete load of crap.

  2. From Across the Pond -- When our two sons were small I would sit them down at their little table, on little chairs, serve them Campbell's Chicken & Rice soup & read the book -- we all loved that ritual. I reminded them by email last night.
    And I agree with Brit -- did NOT like Sendak's chaotic books.
    Lots of butterflies around Central Park now.

  3. A comparison with Shakespeare's a little silly, isn't it?

  4. Who's comparin'?
    Envy you those butterflies Susan.
    I'm afraid I love just about every Sendak book - they're just so visually beautiful, never mind the story.