I might like Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson much better if it didn’t claim to reveal the story that came before J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. As an independent adventure/fantasy story, it’s perfectly decent. As a prequel to Peter Pan, it’s a lot of claptrap and nonsense that at no point convinces me anyone anywhere involved in the project ever so much as read J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.
There is a wonderful story that comes before Peter Pan. It’s called The Little White Bird and J. M. Barrie wrote it himself in 1902. To come along a century later and claim you’re writing a prequel without apparently doing any research is ridiculous, and insulting to Mr. Barrie. Especially when the only research really required would be to read two books. That’s hardly an exhaustive amount.
Mr. Barrie didn’t include a lot of details about Peter’s past life, but he did include some. As far as I can tell, Peter and the Starcatchers ignores all of them. The basic premise of the novel is that there is something called starstuff (strongly resembling fairy dust) loose in the world. Peter is a member of a group of orphan boys. The orphans, the starstuff, and a couple of factions fighting over the starstuff end up on an island somewhere. When the starstuff gets loose, the island begins to transform into a magical place, not to mention changing Peter so he’ll never grow up.
If you’re not already spotting why most of this is an utter travesty on the original book, allow me to explain. One–Peter was not an orphan. It is clearly related that he ran away from home very shortly after he was born because he didn’t want to grow up to be a man–and he knew he would if he stayed because he heard his parents talking about it. Two–Peter doesn’t grow up because he doesn’t want to. You can take it two ways: either he forever rejected the idea of growing up the day he ran away, or he continues to reject it daily and his imagination is strong enough to make it actually happen. Either way, it’s about Peter’s choices and his imagination. Three–it’s pretty clear that the magical dust floating around is a byproduct of fairies, not the other way around.
These are central ideas to the Peter Pan mythology, and to ignore them from the onset creates overarching problems with the entire concept of the book.
It doesn’t get better in the details. In Peter and the Starcatchers, Peter cuts off Hook’s left hand. Whoops–in the original, Hook’s right hand was cut off. Perhaps that’s nitpicking, but I’d say it demonstrates something about the amount of care taken. If the rest of the book was true to the original I’d forgive the wrong hand, but when the rest of the book isn’t, all it does is exemplify the problems.
But you know what possibly annoys me the most? There’s a scene in Peter and the Starcatchers where starstuff is put in a bag along with a bird, and out pops Tinker Bell.
The problem? There is NO NEED to reveal how fairies came to be. Because Mr. Barrie already told us that! “When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” Now, when every baby laughs for the first time, its laugh becomes a new fairy. Given the choice between the charming whimsy of laughter becoming fairies, and the painful practicality of smothering a bird with starstuff…well, that’s not much of a choice. And you can’t claim to be in Mr. Barrie’s magical world and then just disregard every rule he wrote for it.
I know from looking at the bookshelf at the bookstore that there are two or three more books in the series. I haven’t read them, so I can’t comment on them. But after reading the first, I’d be shocked if the later ones did any better at drawing from J. M. Barrie’s books.
There is room in the world for a new prequel to Peter Pan. There’s a gap between The Little White Bird and Peter Pan, and in that gap Peter learned to fly, went to Neverland, and met Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys. I would love to see a well-done book that reveals that story. But Peter and the Starcatchers is not that book.