Friday, January 17, 2014

Jim Henson: The Biography

I probably admire Jim Henson more than anyone else in the world. I've read so much about the making and history of the Muppets and other projects he's worked on, that it seems weird that it took this long--almost 25 years since Jim's death--to really get an in-depth biography of the man.

When I was a kid, nothing inspired me more than the Muppets. I was a kid who made models and put on shows with stuffed animals; I would spend hours creating dioramas and panoramas with my action figures, dreaming of a future career with Industrial Light & Magic or Disney or--the biggest dream of all--working with Jim Henson. I actually co-wrote and performed in a show with another kid in front of my second grade class; we did it like an episode of Fraggle Rock, with puppets and stuffed animals. (Incidentally, that was the same year I went to the Young Author's Contest and had two short books I wrote put in the school library; I still have them, with their library cards intact--you can see that people actually checked the darn things out!) (Also incidentally, I spent a lot of that year trying with action figures and stuff I made to re-create Jabba's Throne Room from Return of the Jedi--which I, dreaming of creating creatures, thought was the ultimate in special effects and creatures for the longest time. I was obsessed with it. Are you starting to see why I'm always so into aliens that look like something more than humans with forehead rashes?)

Anyway: the Muppets are pretty much the best thing in human history for me.

It was a pleasure to get to read this examination of Jim's origins, his inspirations, and his career. I think it really captures his spirit as both man and creator. I don't want it to sound like I didn't love this book--because I did--but I didn't feel that it really went into the "warts and all" depth that a lot of critics felt it did. It was an honest book, and the first one to really delve into Jim's problematic relationship with his wife. But I would've liked more insight into that, and into how he felt about the whole situation. But I think that's not really a fault of the book or of the people who contributed time and interviews to the project. Author Brian Jay Jones had a lot of access, particularly to Jim Henson's diary. And I think Jim kept so much of that stuff inside and didn't really talk about it with people--even his diary entries are minimal and understated--that we'll never really know how he felt.

The thing about Jim Henson is that people really liked him and don't have very negative things to say about him--and if they do, they don't want to talk about it. The other thing about Jim Henson is that a lot of that nice, gentlemanly image wasn't just an image; by all accounts, that's pretty much who he was. I would love to know how he found such placidity and appreciation for all of life inside of himself, because I have such trouble finding those things. The fact that he could live that way and translate his love of life and other people and the interconnectedness of everyone and everything is a rare gift.

This book captures that guy; the guy who didn't spend his time dwelling on disappointments or venting negativity. I think in that aspect especially--the aspect of focusing on the positive and making adjustments and choosing to be happy and make others happy--Jim Henson was a remarkable human being.

He's my hero. And I really like this book.

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