I should start this review with two confessions:
- I never read the original Peter Pan by J.M Barrie. But I have seen the stage play and of course I've seen Disney's version.
- I have an aversion to spin-off books/fan fiction.
You probably know where this is going.
I think fan fiction authors tread dangerous waters when they twist another author's story and characters to their own devices, especially such an iconic story as Peter Pan. They open themselves up to much more criticism than normal. But they've walked the gangplank, so to speak, and thus have to swim with the crocodiles.
Let's take a look at some of the basics of Tiger Lily:
- Neverland, in this incarnation, is an island that is magically hidden, and only a few find their way there over the ocean. But that seems to be the only magical thing about it. Everything about it, including the fairies, are discussed in Darwinian terms: the island and its inhabitants just evolved to be the way they are. That not bad, just a complete departure from the original story. (There's no flying to Neverland in this book.)
- Tinkerbell plays the mute, bug-eating, Tiger-Lily-fan-girl, non fairy-dust-toting narrator. She spends most of her time in Tiger Lily's village and has watched Tiger Lily grow up. Peter only meets her when he meets Tiger Lily, whom he's apparently meeting for the first time as a teenager. But despite Tinkerbell's muteness, she can apparently see into other people's minds.
- Tinkerbell talks about the random cessation of growth associated with Neverland. For some reason the pirates are aging, maybe because they sailed there from England as adults? But the natives on the island stop aging at some random point in time. It doesn't appear to be consistent, and the idea is left hanging as an inexplicable element of the island.
- The main characters, Peter and Tiger Lily are much older than the original, being about 15 or 16 years old, with all the sexual tension that entails. Which feels weird to read, when some of the same things are happening to them as happened in the original story. Peter comes across as angst-ridden, emotional yo-yo: an innocent bad boy, which sometimes doesn't come across well, given his age in this story. Tiger Lily is the adopted daughter of the trans-gendered shaman of the tribe, taciturn, serious, doesn't show her feelings, and finds it hard to empathize with people, yet truly loves her adopted father. We never really learn what makes her tick. She remains somewhat a mystery throughout the book. Wendy is portrayed as the vapid, boyfriend-stealing wench. Smee is a sociopathic killer, obsessed with Tiger Lily. The whole tone of the book is darker, and the characters are flawed and mostly compelling, which I don't see as a problem, per say, but they just don't reconcile with the original characters.
- There is an additional element of magic that is never explained in the book, that exacts revenge on Tiger Lily's enemies. We never learn if it is Tiger Lily herself that causes their destruction, or someone else, or some island magic at work.
- I would actually have really liked how Tiger Lily's story ended (it makes sense to me, as a married, middle-aged woman with reality, and real love, firmly under my belt) if it weren't for the fact that Pine Sap, the man she marries, her childhood best friend, is deserving of a woman who is emotionally present for him, especially after his abusive childhood. It seems sad to me that in marrying Tiger Lily, he marries a woman as equally emotionally distant as his own mother, although less abusive. It still smacks a little too much of an abuse cycle, although the author keeps insisting that he is very emotionally healthy. If Tiger Lily had shown signs of being different for her experiences, I'd feel better, but as far as the reader can make out, she's still the same old emotionally distant Tiger Lily, pining for Peter Pan. I don't like Peter's ending.
On the positive side, Jodi Lynn Anderson is a good word weaver, if only the words weren't about iconic characters from an iconic story, most of whom have already been fully formed in peoples minds. If you haven't read Barrie's original, or seen the play, nor feel any loyalty to the original, you will probably like the book. My issues with the book stem entirely from the fact that it's fan fiction. My feeling is, don't mess with a classic. It's not yours to mess with. But I may be in the minority on that issue.
Published in 2012 by HarperCollins Children's Books
Review copy borrowed from the library.
What say you? Are you a fan of fan fiction or do you not want your classics messed with?