Skip to main content

Peter Pan in Scarlet

Review

Peter Pan in Scarlet

In 1929, J. M. Barrie bestowed all rights to his beloved PETER PAN to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) for Children in London. He explained that the "real" Peter Pan had been a patient at the hospital and that it was this young boy who had put Barrie up to the gift. For years to come, PETER PAN royalties would help keep the hospital afloat --- that is, until 2007, when the book's copyright was due to expire. With the deadline fast approaching, GOSH launched a worldwide competition in 2004 to ferret out an author who would pen a suitable sequel in order to help keep the symbiotic relationship between the hospital and PETER PAN alive.

Out of 200 entries worldwide, award-winning British author Geraldine McCaughrean was chosen for the daunting task. With a collection of 130 books and plays under her belt --- many of them adaptations of well-known classics --- she was more than suited for the challenge. In the eyes of many diehard fans of the original, the book's success would ultimately depend on whether McCaughrean stayed true to Barrie's initial vision when adding her own style and plot elements to the mix. The good news is, she does --- for the most part.

Those expecting a Disney-esque tale with a selfless, kind boy cast as the heroic Peter, and a narrative filled to the brim with lighthearted, whimsical adventures involving Pan's trusty crew, best look elsewhere. PETER PAN IN SCARLET, the first officially sanctioned sequel to Barrie's childhood classic, far from resembles many of the overtly positive and uplifting prequels, movies, plays and unofficial revised editions, popular on the market today. Instead, McCaughrean's version is indeed just as fierce and dodgy as Barrie's original, and promises a nail-biting read from start to finish.

As PETER PAN IN SCARLET opens, it is 1926. The once young and saccharine Wendy Darling has grown up, as have the rest of the rowdy Lost Boys-turned-Old Boys crew. Some have children of their own. Others have fashioned successful careers for themselves. And some, rather unfortunately, have perished (most notably Michael, who died in World War I; and Nana, the Darlings' lovable nursemaid/dog, who presumably died of old age). All seems right as rain in London, aside from the fact that "Neverland [is] rubbing against the Here and Now, wearing holes in the fabric in between" and "tendrils of dreams [are] starting to poke through." Always ripe for an adventure despite their old age, Wendy and her chums decide to go back to the land of their childhood whimsy in order to make sure nothing curious is afoot.

With the aid of Fireflyer (an updated, less lovable version of Tinkerbell), they don children's clothes and return to the "circle without a perimeter, a square without corners, an island without borders: Neverland," only to find it drastically different. The land is polluted, the ocean is orange and there's no birdsong to be heard for miles. Furthermore, Peter is as cranky as ever and not nearly as happy to see them as they thought he'd be.

Of course, his shock and irritation at being "put out" soon wears off, and the ever-audacious Peter ignites a plan for a journey that is more daring, more courageous and more stupefying than ever before. What follows is a series of episodic adventures, each one more thrilling and death-defying than the last. Before their quest is over, the "League of Pan" will have traversed the Grief Reef, nearly escaped the Maze of Witches, risked their lives climbing to the top of Neverpeak, and battled it out over a pool of ravenous quicksand. As if that isn't enough, those rascally Pan followers undoubtedly will find themselves sharing too-close-for-comfort quarters with the likes of Roarers, warring fairies, agitated circus animals and a certain nasty someone with a crimson red coat.

All in all, this at-long-last sequel to PETER PAN is a pleasure to digest, especially when read aloud. McCaughrean clearly has done her homework, as much of the plot threads that are left dangling at the end of the original are assiduously woven into the fabric of the story in this version. Her gorgeous, expansive language jumps off the page, and Scott M. Fischer's illustrations (accompanying each chapter) are exquisite and right in character. There are moments throughout the novel when the action seems excessively muddled and hard to follow, but the time it takes to straighten everything out is well worth, some might say, its weight in (pirate's) gold.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on October 5, 2006

Peter Pan in Scarlet
by Geraldine McCaughrean

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2006
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • ISBN-10: 1416918086
  • ISBN-13: 9781416918080