Last post, I said that I wasn’t going to go into how I came to pick The Neverland back up and start working on it again, and in truth, it’s partly because I don’t remember exactly what gave me that final nudge to open up the Notes file on my iPod and start writing. I think it was a combination of different things, one of which was discovering this book.
How I came across it is one of those weird series of coincidences that is actually really common on the internet, but sounds odd whenever you try to explain it to anyone. I was at work, and one of my colleagues tweeted something with the hashtag #PeterPan. Huge fan though I am, I had never thought to check out anything related to Peter Pan on Twitter, so I clicked on the hashtag and came across this very cute account: @Peter_Pan_
As you can see, the most recent activity is a retweet from Jonathan Wenzel about his Peter Pan novel. At the time of tweeting it was only available for preorder, but now you can buy it directly from the US Amazon. Curious, I clicked on Wenzel’s website and started reading about his novel, which is a telling of the origin story of Peter Pan.
I’ve read one other fan-created version of Peter Pan’s origin story, which is Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It’s a fun tale, but it didn’t read as a convincing canon version of how Peter Pan came into being. At least, I wasn’t completely convinced by it, and it appears Jonathan Wenzel felt the same way; in a Q&A video about his novel, Wenzel said,
“I read a Peter Pan origin story in high school, and I liked it – I liked it a lot – but I finished it, closed the book, put it down, and went, ‘That’s not how it happened.’”
Jon Wenzel shares some questions and answers about his book, Peter: A Tale From Neverland
So I knew I was dealing with a likeminded soul here. (I know it’s not explicitly stated that he was referring to Peter and the Starcatchers, but it was a pretty good bet, and I confirmed via a comment on the video which Wenzel replied to that he was indeed talking about that novel). After watching the rest of the video and reading through the book’s reviews on Amazon, I decided to buy myself a copy. (I was originally going to ask for it for Christmas, but screw waiting).
I read it on and off throughout December and finished it last night; it’s not the type of book that compels you to devour it as quickly as humanly possible, but it was a very good read. It took me a couple of chapters to get used to the author’s style, and as with all self-published novels, there are some spelling errors and missing words scattered about. But those are really my biggest criticisms.
With Peter: A Tale From Neverland Wenzel creates a complex and fully-realised Neverland complete with detailed depictions of the creatures who live there and their unique cultures. The novel’s historical (and geographical) setting is ambiguous, but that doesn’t detract from the story being told. And while you know from the start that Peter has to survive the novel, Wenzel finds other ways to raise the stakes and create a sense of risk. There are some clever little details sown through the story which are important to the novel’s endgame, and while I could tell that they were significant, I didn’t manage to guess just how they would be brought back into play.
I do find Peter: A Tale From Neverland to be a more convincing origin story for Peter Pan than Peter and the Starcatchers, and I think a lot of that is because Wenzel understands that not everything needs an explanation. The island that is Neverland and its inhabitants just exist, and there isn’t any need to explain how or why. Peter and the Starcatchers attempted to systematically tick off every aspect of the Peter Pan world and explain how it came into being, but the more you try to rationalise things, the more attention you draw to how unnatural they are, and the less convincing they become.
With that said, though, I don’t accept A Tale From Neverland as Peter Pan’s origin story. Part of the problem is that Peter Pan does have an origin story, and as unlikely as it may sound (in Peter and Wendy, Peter tells Wendy that he “ran away the day he was born” and “lived a long long time among the fairies” in Kensington Gardens), it fits with the way Peter is written and the world that Barrie created. Peter Pan in the original canon is a slightly surreal figure, not quite human, and to give him a human origin – even if fantastical things happen to him along the way – defeats the object of who he is.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the heck out of a story which imagines a human origin for him, and Jon Wenzel’s creation is a very enjoyable one. I gave it a 9/10 in my “book of books” (a notebook in which I record each book I’ve finished, the date, author and what I thought of it, including marks out of ten) and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for something new to read, particularly if you like fantasy, history or are a fan of Peter Pan. (Click the image at the top of this post to go to the book’s page on Amazon).
Also, Wenzel has confirmed that there will be follow-ups to A Tale From Neverland, and I am very excited to read those whenever they are published!