I feel like we take fairy tales and fables for granted. They’re usually stories that have been passed down for centuries and feature easily digestible morals and advice that are provided in a manner that makes them understandable to children, and that can stick with them in subtle ways as they age when the morals perhaps become even more relevant. Even when these stories get acquired and commoditized by Disney they still often pack that deep message and punch that keep them relevant after decades. But, there’s one aspect of fairy tales that I often do not like. The bizarre notion that some creators have that they need to be made darker. I know that most of the charming children-tales that we know have darker origins, especially the Germanic ones, but those stories were still intended for children. Just children who lived in a much darker world than we do. No, the complaint I usually have is the idea that people want to adapt fairy tales in a way that makes them more “mature” so that adults who never gave up on their childhood obsessions won’t feel bad liking them. It’s a similar notion to the recent epidemic of taking childish properties from the 80’s and 90’s and giving them dark and violent remakes to appeal to the people who grew up with them and are now adults. Because we live in a strange culture where it’s acceptable to have a perpetual adolescence and be nostalgic about things from your childhood, but it’s somehow shameful to enjoy them as they were without some forced violence or sex to apparently make it more mature. It’s a slippery slope, and too often you come across stories that basically boil down to “what if it’s Alice in Wonderland, but gory?” And I really couldn’t be less interested in that sort of thing.
But, when done right, a more mature and deep look at a fairy tale is possible, and can be quite interesting. Not necessarily a dark version of the story, but a story that takes a familiar fable and reexamines it from a different perspective that you never had thought about it before. And I believe that I’ve read one such story. Christina Henry’s novel Lost Boy. The basic story of the novel is that it tells an alternate history of Captain Hook, and by extension Peter Pan. In this story Hook, or Jamie as he was called, was the very first Lost Boy that Peter ever brought to the island of Neverland. Peter, Jamie, and a slew of other boys have spent years, if not decades, playing on their island, fighting pirates and never growing up. Boys often die on the island in the course of these games, but Peter’s always able to bring more boys to replenish the roster, so it’s all fun and games. This Peter is a much crueler character, one who is completely spoiled and is only interested in his own personal amusement. If anyone disobeys or, even worse, bores him, he’s likely to send them on a dangerous mission that will get them killed so he can get a new playmate. Except Jamie. Jamie has learned how to deal with Peter, but in the process has taken on the role of the caregiver for the various Lost Boys, since Peter is obviously not interested.
Things begin to change though when three new children are brought to the island. One is a boy far too young named Charlie that Peter almost instantly gets bored with and who Jamie vows to protect. Another is a violent and thuggish boy named Nip who Peter has clearly brought to the Island to stir things up with Jamie. And the film is a boy called Sal, who we eventually learn is actually a girl named Sally. Jamie’s interactions with these three children eventually end up taking some of the bloom off the rose, and he starts to see Peter as the egomaniac that he really is. And, as Jamie starts to loose respect and love for Peter, he gradually starts to grow up. This creates a vicious cycle of resentment between the two characters until Jamie ends up losing all love for Peter, and has to come to terms with the awful truth that Peter stole him from a real world to become a possession, something that he could play with to make himself happy. Jamie and the others attempt to fight against Peter, but after quite a bit of casualties they realize that there’s no real beating Peter, and resign themselves to joining with the Pirates, trapped in an eternal feud with the magical boy, knowing that future generations of Lost Boys will come and go, thinking that he is their villain instead of their attempted savior.
Lost Boy is a novel that ended up hitting me twice. While I was reading the novel I fell in love with the creepy way that Henry characterized Peter. She took a character that has always felt a little unnerving, and essentially made him a cult leader. He was a vain and domineering force who could bend people to his will, and throw them away whenever he grew bored with him. And, frankly, she didn’t really have to twist the source material that much to get that read. Peter Pan is a very strange character, and one who can very easily be made the villain with just a minor shift in focus. Seeing Jamie and the other children be trapped on an island with a near omnipotent and malevolent force becomes a very tense and frightening read, and one that I appreciated quite a bit.
But, after finishing the novel, another, perhaps more deep realization came upon me. Like I said up top, we live in a world where it’s perfectly acceptable to live in perpetual adolescence. There are plenty of people who go deep into their thirties still acting more or less like they’re college students, not taking things too seriously and just kind of drifting around. They’ve managed to find the mythical world of Neverland. They never have to grow up. And while I certainly shouldn’t be pulling too hard on that thread as someone who has built an entire site devoted to obsession over nostalgic things. Which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. If people are happy and they aren’t hurting anyone, they should be allowed to do what makes them happy. But, the idea that it’s sometimes easier to remain in that perpetual adolescence instead of facing the realities of the real world can be incredibly detrimental. By pretending that we’re going to live forever, and that we should be on an eternal quest for youth can make it so that you end up missing out on living your life. Jamie is dragged into adulthood, skipping most of his life, by disillusionment, and as a result becomes a bitter old Pirate who tries to destroy his past. Peter’s not right, and Jamie honestly isn’t either. The real answer is probably somewhere in the middle. You should enjoy your life, and lead it in a way that feels fulfilling to you, but you also need to be willing to let things go. To grow up. To change. Otherwise you could be trapped as an eternal child, someone who isn’t willing to take charge of their own life and someone who expects others to lead you about. And that’s not a life well-led.
Lost Boy: the True Story of Captain Hook was written by Christina Henry, 2017.
Categories: Page Turners