I've always loved the story of Peter Pan. I grew up watching the Disney cartoon and the VHS we had of Mary Martin in the filmed stage musical. Around the time I turned 10 or 11, I found a copy of J.M. Barrie's novel at a used book store. It was already an old copy, but I didn't care for a new one. I had already cultured a love of old books. I read it for the first time with fervent interest. I'd had no idea that the story of the boy who won't grow up actually extended past the worlds of what the films portrayed. Reading Peter Pan for the first time was like sitting in a fairy garden while the fireflies zoom above my head, whispering their secrets with me, alone.
I've read it a few times since that first time, but once I went to high school I had so much else to do that I nearly forgot about it. So I grew up. Lives do not change so much, you see, from century to century. No matter how much technology we have, people still lose touch, people will still suffer memory loss, time still moves on.
Then two years ago, as a Christmas present, I received a series of books called Peter and the Starcatchers. I had no idea what it was, but my mother had purchased the 3 hardcover books, and the third one was a signed copy. It was explained to me that they were related to Peter Pan, and that they were co-authored by my favorite humorist and journalist, Dave Barry (no relation to J.M. Barrie) and by thrill-writer Ridley Pearson, who has done other work with Disney in recent years. I looked at the Hyperion (Disney) label on the back and groaned inwardly. I was afraid that I was entering into a tawdry Disney mess.
When I took the books home, they stared at me from the bookshelf for 2 weeks before I gave in and began the first one (from which the series takes its name ).
Within a week, I had finished all 3, and I craved more. I immediately took out every single Peter Pan-related work from the New York Public Library. I read the original play, then the other plays written by Barrie. I read Pearson & Barry's supplemental interludes to the series, and then a ton of material on the psychology of the story, etc. The child was back. The series had reawakened the kid I left behind when high school started. She woke and returned to the fairie garden where the story was waiting to be re-attended.
The series takes place about 20 years before the events of Barrie's novel. Wendy's mother (Molly) is the youngest in an almost eternal line of persons meant to protect one of the world's most ancient and most dangerous secrets. How Peter and the other orphans get involved is something I'll leave out since I do strongly recommend the series. I will say, though, that at one point Peter either falls or is thrown from the ship. Molly dives into the ocean and saves him. Peter never forgets this, and once he stumbles upon his eternal youth and ability to fly, he does everything he can to keep Molly safe.
It is, however, the beginning of his tragedy. Molly mustgrow up and, according to this series' mythology, Peter could not leave and grow up to be Robin Williams even if he wants to. Peter, with his love for Molly, is trapped in a boy's body and will never be able to understand his feelings for her. And once she does leave him, one can easily assume the 20 year jump between the end of the third novel and the beginning of Barrie's.
But then, last year, Pearson & Barry published a fourth book in the series - this Peter and the Sword of Mercy. We pick up about 20 years from where we left off. Yes, just before Barrie's story begins. Molly has married George Darling (whom I believe is introduced in the third book, but it could have been earlier; Peter never got along with George). The Darlings have three children--yep. Wendy, John & Michael. And they've never heard of anyone called "Peter Pan."
Now, I haven't read the other novels in about two years so the glow of the starstuff has worn off and I'd forgotten quite a bit. And Pearson isn't really one for exposition. He kind of catches you up along the way instead of briefing you before the story happens. I love him for that. Eventually I remembered it all and I wanted to go back and read them all again! But it seems more right this way. By delaying the fourth book, I feel like Molly. She's grown up, and she's not so much a part of the adventure anymore. It's time for her daughter to step up and save the day with Peter (blushing) by her side. Molly's feelings are much more adult now, though a part of her will always wish that she'd found a way to stay on the island with Peter.
The newest addition to the series retains most of the charm of the first three, but it's not only Molly (and the gang) who has grown up. England has as well. There are phones and giant steamships and underground subway tains. Mollusk Island (what the reader knows to be Neverland) is now separated so much more from the world we know. And the evil's a little bit scarier. And life is a bit more tragic. I said before that one could have easily leapt from the end of the third installment, forward 20 years, and into Barrie's Peter Pan. Not so for this book.
Barrie's Peter has been a boy in Neverland since almost before he can remember. Peter is forgetful. He barely remembers Wendy after an hour, let alone remembering her mother after 20 years. Barrie's Peter is selfish and undeniably vain - faults that could have been easily explained by Molly's leaving him. Peter goes through fairies like candy. Fairies don't live very long and when Barrie takes us forward to when we see Wendy's daughter, Wendy inquires after Tinkerbell, and Peter has no idea who she refers to. Pearson and Barry have the whole island affected by the youthfulness that Peter endures, yet they do not introduce a key character like Tigerlily. And then there's the matter of George Darling. After the events of this novel, there is no way that he would act with the ignorance and fervor that he does in Barrie's story.
So what does all this mean? Are we meant to assume that J.M. Barrie's version is a mere story told by Wendy as an elaborate ruse? The end of the book leaves it open to a potential fifth book, but the evil of the first four has been dealt with soundly. There's not very far to go--Wendy cannot get much older between this and the original tale. So where do we go? It leaves me unsure. But if there's a fifth book, it'll definitely make it onto my shelves. Perhaps all of the discrepancies will be fixed and the questions answered. If, however, they're not planning a fifth book, then I should forever wonder why I have two distinct and unresolved versions of Peter in my mind.