23 August 2012

Redoing Mickey’s Monkey?

The legend of Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen is that “librarians across the country” painted a diaper or underwear over the hero Mickey’s genitals. This month at School Library Journal Kathleen T. Horning pointed out that the great majority of librarians supported full access to the book as Sendak had created it, as they supported him for most of his career.

Horning found three sets of evidence for authorities painting in the book:

  • a letter to School Library Journal from one Louisiana librarian in 1971, which prompted a semi-public response from Sendak’s editor, Ursula Nordstrom.
  • a school system in Missouri doctoring forty books before using Night Kitchen in a classroom.
  • Sendak’s own statement in 1991 that “I have a number of [altered] copies smuggled out to me by embarrassed librarians.”
However, in that same 1991 speech Sendak declared:
It’s been brought to my attention by a number of people that Mickey, in the lithograph I prepared for this American Booksellers Assn. convention, is still the 1970 little boy he always was—but that, oddly, his privates have grown way out of proportion. Now, this is true—I was unaware of that detail—and I’d like to think I inadvertently touched on some significant unconscious point—and not merely that I’m guilty of bad drawing. Either explanation might be correct, but of course I prefer the former.

What could be more reasonable under the circumstances? It makes a kind of comical sense; like Pinocchio’s nose displaced downwards (in Freud, it usually goes the other way), Mickey’s penis grows in response to the lie that is censorship, the lie that says children must be protected from such a sight.
Actually, all those explanations and symbolic interpretations are based on a faulty premise. The image of Mickey on the ABA 1991 poster was basically traced from a panel in Night Kitchen. And he shows little significant growth or shrinkage at all. Well, except in his feet.

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