Regarding the phrase that kicks off the Wild Rumpus

by Josh Kimball

I am no Dave Eggers apologist and I never have been. In fact, my regard for Eggers normally hovers somewhere near my feelings about Bono, black mead and the online zine Slate. Which is to say: not my bag.

However, I can’t but take issue with this particular criticism from Tom Scocca of the Awl, leveled at Eggers’ “Where the Wild Things Are” screenplay adaptation:

Tom Scocca: Sendak: “And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start.”

Tom Scocca: Eggers: Blah blah blah blah the beasts gathered around blah blah blah Max understood that he was supposed to say something blah blah blah “Let the wild rumpus begin!”

Tom Scocca: I would say that the difference between that crisp “start” and Eggers’ flaccid “begin” defines everything that could be said about the literary gap between the two, except I am also fixated on “understood that he was supposed to say something,” which is essentially the epigram and epitaph for the literary imagination of Dave Eggers.

Disregarding the “understood that he was supposed to say something” part (which is fine and all), I respectfully submit that Scocca’s preference of “start” rather than “begin” is just plain wrong. So wrong that it nearly drives me stark-raving mad. So wrong that I cannot begin on, much less buy, the rest of the argument.

*In fact: Said word choice pays no attention to how the entire line scans.
*In fact: To call “start” crisp because it’s a single-syllable word with an alvealor final phonetic is somewhat acceptable, but it ignores completely the two-syllable rhythm setup of “rumpus” – along with the rest of the phrase. “Let the frat bash start!” MAYBE. But the opening of the original line makes “start” not a “crisp” choice, but an abrupt one.

(I have read this thing aloud thousands of times, and after so many readings, chinks in prose become apparent. Don’t get me started on “Hide ‘N Seek Elmo.”)

*Furthermore: One does not let something start. Starting is to move suddenly. It is to throw into motion. Begin, on the other hand, means “to do the first part of an action.” If you are “letting,” then you are beginning. If you are starting, you’re starting. CHRIST.

In summation, if there’s one worthy thing Eggers did in his screenplay (and please note that I have not yet seen the film, so I have no real judgement on it), it is to right the decades-old wrong that was “Let the Wild Rumpus start.” Which is awful. I will apostatically add that some of the prose in those “Little Bear” books is really wonky, too. In a bad way; not just weird, bad.

(Also, I love the Awl. In general. But not on this. Goodbye.)