True to Barrie’s Pan
WHEN dreams begin leaking out of Neverland into this world, Wendy Darling believes that there must be something wrong and proposes a visit to Peter Pan’s home so that the problem can be found and fixed.
But many years have passed since Wendy flew with Pan. She is a grown woman now, with a daughter of her own. Her brother Michael has perished in the war and John is a husband and father, as are most of the Old Boys – who were once Lost Boys, until they were adopted by Mr and Mrs Darling when they returned from Neverland.
Only children can fly to Neverland, though, and so the adults don their children’s clothes and become young again. It’s a case of clothes literally making the man ... and child. And it is a theme that is repeated throughout Geraldine McCaughrean’s official sequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, released worlwide on Oct 5.
Although I have always enjoyed McCaughrean’s books, I didn’t count on liking Peter Pan in Scarlet (Oxford University Press). But I was spellbound from ... no, not the first page, but very soon after.
The story builds up slowly: We meet Wendy and the Old Boys and learn a little about their lives post-Peter; our memories of Neverland (red-skins and mermaids, crocodiles and cutlasses) are stirred; we are taken on an expedition to Kensington Park; babies are stalked and a fairy is caught. (It is possible that the fairy, Fireflyer, might just be even more annoying than Tinker Bell.)
The book blossoms once the “children” take off and head for Neverland: “second to the right and straight on till morning.” How things have changed though: Neverland has lost its eternal summer foliage and is now an “ocean of golden orange, and scarlet trees”; Peter wears blood red Virginia creeper and maple leaves, and has forgotten Wendy. He is “dying of boredom”; Tinker Bell has “run off”; the Lost Boys (those who came after the original gang) are all culled for “breaking the rules”.
But with Wendy once again in Neverland, the boy is raring to go, while Wendy and the others, now that they are once again children, forget why they have come back in the first place. Fixing problems is the last thing on their young minds; adventures and quests are uppermost!
And so, The League of Pan go in search of thrills and spills and the story unfolds to reveal secrets and wonders, horrors and terrors, dark deeds and deep disappointments. (By the way, if you can, re-read Peter Pan, the novel, and marvel at the way a seemingly minor although evocative detail at the end of the book has been developed into an important and powerful part of Scarlet’s plot.)
This stunning book celebrates and honours Barrie’s original work by staying true to his ideas and voice. It is also a triumph of McCaughrean’s imagination and inventiveness.
Like Barrie’s tale, this one is magical and exciting, full of action, suspense and danger, high jinks, fun and frolics. But it is also suffused with sadness and anger, resentment and regret.
The best of the action centres around an intriguing new character, the ringmaster Ravello, who comes to work as Peter’s valet when his circus is torched to the ground. He proves to be the key to the mystery of the changes in Neverland, and he himself is the greatest mystery of all. When all is revealed, don’t be surprised if you actually hear the pieces clicking satisfyingly into place.
As for the ending, it is one all mothers (or mothers of Mrs Darling’s ilk, at any rate) will love McCaughrean for. Think reunions and resolutions, closure and comfort. Think a book that is destined to be a classic. Barrie would be proud.