"His suit of skeleton leaves was gone, and in its place was a tunic of jay feathers and the blood-red leaves of autumn . . . " --Peter Pan in Scarlet
I have a tendency to remember pros and forget cons. I remembered Peter Pan as a brilliantly hilarious book, a story that is truly laugh out loud funny, not a sentence wasted. I remember it as wonderfully quotable. The perfect story from which to cull lines to write on the walls of a child's bedroom.
So I started to dig around...
"They all took it for granted that if they went he would go also, but really they scarcely cared. Thus children are ever ready. when novelty knocks, to desert their dearest ones."
Just the sweetest sentiment, don't you think?
"Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention, we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked."
As I reread the book now, I still believe it to be a work of comic genius.
It is more than just a humorous story, though. Underneath the silliness and whimsy are layers of disconcerting truths about human nature and particularly about children. Peter Pan does not glorify childhood in the way one might imagine when recalling the charming eternal boy.
"Alas, he had already forgotten that he owed his bliss to Wendy. He thought he had attached the shadow himself. "How clever I am!" he crowed rapturously, "oh the cleverness of me!" It is humiliating to have to confess that this conceit of Peter was one of his most fascinating qualities. To put it with brutal frankness, there never was a cockier boy."
You might even say that Peter Pan is a fairly dark story. Disney barely scraped the surface.
" . . . Smee sat, ever industrious and obliging, the essence of the commonplace, pathetic Smee. I know not why he was so infinitely pathetic, unless it were because he was so pathetically unaware of it; but even strong men had to turn hastily from looking at him, and more than once on summer evenings he had touched the fount of Hook's tears and made it flow. Of this, as of almost everything else, Smee was quite unconscious."
It is that tight, inexplicable and yet indissoluble weave of opposites that gives Peter Pan such brilliance, such texture. We feel, but we laugh so that we do not cry.
"Hook felt the gloomy desire to make his dying speech, lest presently there should be no time for it. 'Better for Hook,' he cried, 'if he had had less ambition!' It was in his darkest hours only that he referred to himself in the third person. 'No little children love me!'"
As a parent now, I find Peter Pan much more difficult to read. Before, I thought of childhood as it applied to me. I thought that way. I acted that way. Now I think of it as I relate to my own child. I am the enforcer, the comforter, the caretaker. I am childhood's ultimate outsider.
" . . . Instinct told him that it would be prudent to lay the responsibility on an absent person; and though a somewhat silly boy, he knew that mothers alone are always willing to be the buffer. All children know this about mothers, and despise them for it, but make constant use of it. So Tootles explained prudently, 'You see, sir, I don't think my mother would like me to be a pirate . . . '"
"If we had returned sooner to look with sorrowful sympathy at her, she would probably have cried, 'Don't be silly; what do I matter? Do go back and keep an eye on the children.' So long as mothers are like this, their children will take advantage of them; and they may lay to that."
I can see the darkness of Peter Pan now. And because I see that darkness, I feel comfortable saying that Peter Pan in Scarlet is the perfect sequel to Peter Pan.
I don't say that lightly. I am usually one to actively avoid sequels written by people other than the original author, even authorized sequels like this one. But I've read enough Peter Pan inspired literature to feel that an exception was in order. So my husband and I started reading Peter Pan in Scarlet aloud to each other.
We were, if you'll excuse the unfortunate pun, hooked.
Peter Pan in Scarlet is set years after the original story, in a time when chaos has come to Neverland. Dreams are leaking from it, seeping into the real world. The Darlings and the former Lost Boys must leave their loved ones and find a way to return to Neverland, to childhood, to see what the trouble is.
"Both she and her husband liked to pretend it was not happening (because that's what grown-ups do when they are in trouble) . . . "
As may be guessed, the tone of the story takes a turn for the darker from the moment the newly youthful children set their feet on the island and eyes on their childhood hero. Time has passed where no time should have passed. All is wrong with Neverland.
"Worlds have been lost by the heartlessness of mothers. Whole worlds, I tell you! Whole Worlds!"
Geraldine McCaughrean does a magnificent job crafting this tale, bringing a fresh burst of life to dear old friends and introducing us to new characters and wonders. The story builds on its inspiration beautifully but incorporates its own breathtaking originality. It has its own style, undeniably, but it works well with Barrie's. Peter Pan in Scarlet might not make it onto my top favorite list next to Peter Pan the original, but it definitely has a place in my heart now.
"It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly."
Like its predecessor, Peter Pan in Scarlet is as much, or possibly even more, for adults as for children. To say that it completes Peter Pan might be going a bit far, but it does an impressive job of reaching out to sooth the scars left by some of the more painful sentiments of Barrie's gay and innocent and heartless novel. For me, as a parent, it brings the story full circle.
" . . . Watching the sleeping faces of his little ones, he simply could not imagine going anywhere without them--ever. He resigned then and there from a trip to Neverland. In fact, he even woke the little ones up to ask, 'What has Neverland got that could possibly be better than you?'"