CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 14 . . . . March 2, 2007
Peter Pan in Scarlet.
Geraldine McCaughrean. Illustrated by David Wyatt.
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006.
275 pp., cloth, $24.95.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Kristin Butcher.
Sometimes a game takes over from the person who thought of it. In Neverland games always do, and play isn't play: it's real—which is wonderful and makes your brain spin zigger-zag behind your eyes and sends little jets of hotness through your stomach and steals the spit out of your mouth; and all the birds are harpies and all the logs are cannon and all the curtains are ghosts and all the noises are monsters …It's the best of moments, and you know you will remember it forever.
But, by Skylights, it's scary!
Of course, this wonderful, magical condition is only true for children, and once they grow up, the magic is lost. Sadly, all children grow up. All but one, that is—the one-and-only-child, Peter Pan.
J.M. Barrie originally wrote Peter Pan as a play which debuted on the London stage in 1904. In 1911, it was released in book format, and in 1929 Barrie donated all the profits from the work as well as the copyright to the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), which—through the years—has used the money reaped from Barrie's generosity to help treat sick children. In 2004, Peter Pan turned 100 years old, and GOSH decided it was time to send him off on a new adventure. Toward that end, the hospital ran a competition, searching for just the right voice to pen an official sequel. From over 200 entries, Geraldine McCaughrean emerged the winner and set to work. The result is an enchanting new novel entitled Peter Pan in Scarlet.
McCaughrean picks up Barrie's story 20 years after Captain Hook has been eaten by the crocodile and all the children have returned home to the Darling household, leaving Peter alone in Neverland. Of course, by this time the children are all grown with children of their own, and Peter and Neverland are nothing more than a fond memory. At least they are until everyone starts having terrible nightmares about them. Something is wrong in Neverland. Peter is in trouble, and they must go back and help him. But how? They aren't children anymore, and only children can go to Neverland.
Naturally it is Wendy who solves the dilemma, and it isn't long before the grown-ups are children once more, winging their way "past the second star to the right and on to morning." But to their horror, Neverland was changed. Time is supposed to stand still on the tiny island, but somehow it hasn't. Where once it had always been summer, it has become autumn, rivers have shrunken, lush fields have turned to dust, and all is in ruin.
And that's not all. Peter has changed too. His leafy green tunic has given way to a fiery red one, and he greets the children with a drawn sword, certain they are the product of his nightmares—for Peter has also been dreaming.
It isn't long, however, until everything is sorted and the League of Pan sets out in search of adventure. While on a quest to kill a dragon, they come upon Ravello, a traveling circus man who more resembles a large raveling cardigan than a person, but since he is a grown-up, Peter quickly gives him the heave-ho. Ravello has no sooner disappeared into the Neverwood with his menagerie of beasts, when the children realize the forest is on fire, and they race for the lagoon. To their surprise, Hook's ship, The Jolly Roger, is there, and everyone clambers aboard to safety and sails off. Peter dons a white cravat and Hook's second best frock coat (for Hook was wearing his best one when the crocodile swallowed him). Then Peter finds a treasure map and declares they will all hunt for Hook's treasure. But when disaster hits and the League of Pan is forced to abandon ship, they once again meet up with Ravello who offers to be Peter's loyal valet in exchange for the privilege of traveling with the group.
And so the adventure begins. Of course, things and people are not what they seem, and danger waits around every corner, up every hill, inside every maze, and at the bottom of every bog. Tinkerbell does make a brief appearance, but it is a new bad-tempered fellow named Fireflyer, who has the lead fairy role in McCaughrean's story. Nana, the great devoted Newfoundland dog of the original Pan, is replaced by Puppy, her great, great, great grandpup. Wendy is still Wendy and continues to mother all the Lost Boys except Nibs, who opted not to join the group, and Michael, who was lost in the Great War and never had the opportunity to return to Neverland.
But Peter Pan without Captain Hook? It's like Tracy without Hepburn, David without Goliath, Popeye without Brutus. Where is the rivalry? Where is the conflict? Where is the tension? I shan't spoil it for you, but trust me, it's all there.
McCaughrean has done a marvelous job with this book. It has captured the true essence of the original story and taken it to new heights. The novel could hardly be more Barrie-esque if Barrie had written it himself. The language is gorgeous and the images fairly bubble off the pages. It was great fun to read.
My only reservation concerns the ability of young readers to tackle the story independently. Because it is written in a style that is a hundred years old, today's youngsters might find the structure unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating. Therefore, in order to fully enjoy the book, I suggest it be shared with grownups so that they get to go back to Neverland too.
Kristin Butcher lives in Campbell River, BC, and writes for children, because it's so much more fun and important than writing for grownups.
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