I like retellings of Peter Pan, the way they get at the motives of different Neverlandish groups. I love the stage play and the Disney movie, and I like Hook and Finding Neverland and even Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Peter and the Starcatchers, and Return to Neverland. So when I first saw it, I signed up right away for a giveaway of Alias Hook, by Lisa Jensen, over at Reading the End. And then I won a copy of the book! I was so excited to read it that I made time in my all-work-and-no-play semester.
Since Annalee Newitz at io9 brought it up, I’ve been waiting to see Nathan Fillion as Hook. But Lisa Jensen has managed to make Peter Pan a bad guy. She has Captain Hook tell the story:
“Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile that drags him down to a watery grave. Who could guess that below the water, the great beast would spew me out with a belch and a wink of its horned, livid eye? It was not yet my time to die, not then nor any other time. It’s my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy with that infernal, eternal boy.”
Hook’s crew are former Lost Boys who have made their way back to Neverland, only to be killed in the battles.
“Are they sorry to call Pan their enemy? Certainly not. None of them remembers exactly that they were ever his creatures. They’ve simply been bred to follow a leader, and any leader will do, so long as their thinking is done for them.”
Hook himself, formerly an eighteenth-century nobleman named James Hookbridge, has been sent to Neverland by the spell of an Obeah woman. His big adventure begins when an adult woman named Stella turns up in Neverland. They argue about Peter Pan:
“’What is the fascination for Pan in your world?’
‘He is youth and joy and innocence, all the things my world now craves,’ she rhapsodizes.
‘He is sorrow, guile, death,’ say I. ‘You venerate a phantom.’
She peers at me quizzically. ‘No,’ she insists, ‘an ideal.’”
For a while, neither of them is sure how she got to Neverland, and whether Peter knows about her or not. One of Hook’s guesses is that “the Scotch boy” might have sent her.
“He got it all wrong, of course, wrote about Pan as if he were a product of his own era, newly run off to the Neverland, although this place is eternal and Pan has been here so much longer than that. Always trumpeting about that he would never grow up, the Scotch boy, that he would never forget.”
They do mention the name “Barrie” in the course of their conversation, in case anyone should miss that he is the “Scotch boy.”
The real horror of Hook’s situation is brought home to Stella, and to the reader, by hearing his version of what happened when he tried to escape Neverland by inviting Pan to join his “company of brigands.” Pan figures out that he wants to escape and calls his boys to hold him down:
“Half of them fell on my flailing arm as I roared for my men. Pan had a grip on my other hand; he’d shaken out the quill and was waving my hand like a prize.
‘By this hand you would have sworn falsely to me!’ he cried. ‘You would have tricked me out there, made me grow big, made me grow up! But I will never live in the grown-up world.’ He drew a raspy breath, and I saw more malice in his glittering eyes than I’d ever seen in any pirate. ‘And neither will you! Never ever! And this is so you won’t forget!’
Three of the little beggars pinned my hand to the barrelhead, while another who’d been flitting all over the deck brought something back to the Pan. I couldn’t see what it was, for all the boys shrieking in my ears and cuffing me about the face as I tried to duck and bob. It wasn’t until he brandished it over his head that I recognized one of our boarding axes.
It took both his hands to manage it. I saw the downward course of the heavy blade and I struggled desperately, lunging and writhing, but my limbs were sandbagged with squirming bodies, and I could not twist away.
The pain was exquisite, a perfection of white-hot agony so consuming, I couldn’t hear my own shriek for the thundering in my head. The children were all shrieking too, giddy in their triumph and whooping as the axe came down again. Of course, he couldn’t do it all at once. Flesh and bone are more resistant than you think; the blade was old, and he was not experienced. It took several good whacks to break down the skin and pulp and sever the bone within.
….The shock of it was not so much that I had been overmatched by little boys….No, it was the glee with which they did it, the jeering, jabbering Lost Boys. We were not in a battle. No lives were at stake. They mutilated me for the sport of it. For the fun.’”
Hook protects Stella from his own men, from Peter and his boys, and from all of the other inhabitants of Neverland, and they begin to tell each other about their worlds.
“In the stories, you know, when Captain Hook swears, it’s always ‘ and she affects a basso profundo comic opera voice, ‘Brimstone and gall! Hammer and tongs!’
May harpies rip out my liver did I ever utter such nonsense,’ I reply and nod her back to her seat. ‘They are entirely fabrications of the Scotch boy. In real life I am no stranger to oaths….in my day it was considered quite reckless to refer to God’s hooks or God’s wounds.’
‘Gadzooks!’ she titters. ‘Zounds!’
My mouth twitches. ‘Aye, it loses a little something with age,’ I agree. ‘To actually name the deity or any part of his anatomy was a terrible blasphemy, and the more intimate, the better.’
‘God’s gallstones!’ she chirps.
‘By God’s putrid bile,’ I counter.
‘God’s cods and tackles!’ she cries.”
Eventually Hook and Stella tell each other all of their stories. Stella reveals that she lost her husband to WWII and her baby to an early labor brought on by the news of his death. After that, she says, she began to dream of Neverland, “a haven of childhood innocence, a place undefiled by war and poverty and hatred, where children might need a mother, where I might finally do somebody some good.” Telling the stories makes her realize that Neverland is not the ideal place she imagined and him understand that boys can grow up and learn compassion.
After that, of course, all it takes is faith and trust, a little bit of fairy dust, and Stella’s feint at kissing Peter Pan for them to get the chance to grow old together, free of the Neverland but not of the dreams they engendered there. It’s a decent retelling for those of us who have already grown up.