The Story That Didn’t Come Before Peter Pan

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.

6 thoughts on “The Story That Didn’t Come Before Peter Pan

  1. I recently saw a play called Peter and the Starcatcher, and something about it seemed familiar. I thought it might have been something I saw here, so I did a search and sure enough… the play is based on this book!

    I rather liked it, actually. You might not… a lot of the problems you mentioned here are still in the play. (Well… Hook does lose is right hand.) But what I liked most about it was the way it was presented. There has to be some word or term for this style of play, but I can’t really think of it. It’s an ensemble cast who each play multiple characters, and the story is sort of narrated to you. It’s full of little (intentional) anachronisms and fourth wall breaks. Hilarious in a ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this’ kind of way. I couldn’t count the times I just whispered, “what?” in disbelief while laughing.

    I enjoyed it overall, but I’m not quite so invested in the story of Peter Pan as you are. 😉 I think it might make a good story on its own, divorced from Peter Pan. But the thing about that is… most of the story (well at least… in the play) depends on the audience knowing how it ends up. The audience has to already know the Peter Pan story to really get the full experience of Peter and the Starcatcher.

    The only thing I really didn’t like was the ending and the seemingly very, very contrived way they were able to rationalize leaving Peter on the island. It seemed all very hurried and… manufactured to me.

    1. It is a bit of an odd paradox when a retelling totally changes the original, yet depends on knowledge of the original to make sense… I didn’t know there was a play version of this series! Also a bit funny, since the original book started as a play before it was a novel. I might like the play, if I could manage to separate it from the original and see it as a different entity…but I’m not good at doing that!

  2. The Never Fairy

    Well said.
    I couldn’t agree with you more.
    This happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves… that Barry & Pearson seemed to comeplete ignore and totally contradict Barrie. It’s just utter disrespect.
    Here’s a list of all their mistakes: List of Differences

    Did you know there’s a story that DOES show respect to Barrie and his creations?
    It’s not a prequel but a continuation. It’s very faithful to Barrie, for it’s based on hisvery own idea for more. The link is here: Click!
    For the record, the ‘official sequel’ Peter Pan in Scarlet ALSO has fact-checking mistakes! How terrible is that?!

    There’s also another very cool novel that send the characters and story in a different direction entirely. It’s a sort of “What if?” and even though it does do a little bit of ‘rewriting’ – it’s so well done and makes such sense given its own story without sacrificing the personalities of the characters (which Barry/Pearson did [Peter’s a ‘good boy’ rather than a ‘brat’ in theirs]) and themes of Barrie. It’s a marvelous tale:

    I hope you read each of these books…
    and you know what? That gap you speak of between Barrie’s books? Apparently the author of the first book linked wrote the interquel novel. He hasn’t released it yet… but you can be sure it’ll be in cohesian with Barrie’s world!

    Thanks for being such a caring and discerning reader. You’d be surprised how many people just shrug and say “Who cares? It’s ficiton.” (it’s NOT fiction… not in the world of the book!)


    1. Good to hear from someone who clearly also feels strongly about the travesty of this book! Thanks for the book suggestions–I’m always on the hunt for more Peter Pan stories, and I wasn’t familiar with these two. They look intriguing… And that List of Differences was fun to read. In a “gnash your teeth” sort of way.

      I have to respectfully disagree about Peter Pan in Scarlet though. I think Geraldine McCaughrean did a good job capturing the spirit of the original, and demonstrating that she does know what she’s writing about. Once an author has done that, I’m willing to forgive an occasional change. I think Barry and Pearson probably shoved a bird into a bag to make Tinker Bell because they didn’t know how fairies were made. But if McCaughrean deviates a little, I’m willing to believe she knew what she was doing, had a reason for it, and did it respectfully.

      But I won’t go on too long about the book here…I’m planning a review of Peter Pan in Scarlet for next week. Also a review of a much better prequel focused on Captain Hook for the week after that. I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

      1. The Never Fairy

        I just can’t get around it in Scarlet either. She changes BASIC facts. Like not being able to fly without a shadow? What? How, then, did Peter Pan fly back to the Darlings’ to fetch it? Why did she need to resurrect Hook when he clearly died? She says Peter Pan went back only once to his mother, Barrie says twice. What about Jane? [Are we to assume it takes place when Jane hadn’t been born yet?] It’s just a matter of paying attention to the details and she didn’t. It’s not “okay” to fudge for a good reason – for I can see no good reasons there. I also thought a lot of it to be silly like the giant puppy out of nowhere that saves him. Or the pointless Red & Blue fairies. I didn’t think she captured the spirit of the original. I think lacked the balance of wit and whimsy that Barrie had. She’s just got “episodic bits” for no reason… unless one counts the Pan->Hook idea, but then, that parallel had already been made by Barrie. We can agree to disagree, I suppose.
        You might like the books I mentioned, you never know!
        (Always) BELIEVE!

        1. I don’t think we’re going to convince each other on Scarlet so I’m happy to agree to disagree too. 🙂 I’m actually willing to agree on the shadow inconsistency–that’s a pretty basic fact, and I don’t know why McCaughrean found it necessary to make a change. I thought she was consistent with Hook–he came back after being eaten by the crocodile, which is in line with Barrie’s ending but also provides another Peter vs. Hook adventure. And Jane actually does appear in the book–I think the assumption is that the adventure takes place before Peter meets Jane. I don’t think anything is therefore inconsistent with that last chapter of Peter and Wendy, except maybe that Peter should have known Wendy had grown up. And the way Peter’s memory works, I don’t find it hard to believe he had been told that and still flew in the window confidently expecting her to be a child.

          I did find the story whimsical in many ways…but then you get down to taste and preference, and, well, to each his/her own. Thanks for the debate. 🙂

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