Long-time readers know that Peter Pan is one of my favorite books. You might also know that I often have trouble with new writers telling stories about beloved characters. So Gail Carson Levine’s Fairies series is a slightly dicey situation, with one of my favorite authors writing based on one of my favorite books. If it had gone bad, it all would have been immensely sad.
So it’s a good thing that it’s a good series! It’s very much a kids book, but it’s a sweet read. I just read the last book as part of my challenge to complete more series. This one is basically a stand-alone, so you could choose to start here if you like. I started this series so long ago (2006!) that I don’t even remember my thoughts when I began, if I was worried about whether it would work. But I remember I liked the first two books, and I can talk about why I think they do work.
As you might have already surmised, the series is not so much about Peter as it is about Tinkerbell, and a host of other fairies who live in Neverland. Shifting the focus makes it easier for a new author to step in. Barrie only gave us a few hints and glimmers (or should I say flashing lights?) about fairies, so Levine can build up a more complex world without contradicting what came before. In the first two books, Peter Pan himself is just referenced, and he’s only a supporting character in this third one.
The first two books introduce us to Levine’s Tinkerbell, an emotional but well-meaning fairy who loves to tinker with metal objects. It’s not the image people usually have of elegant Tinkerbell–but it’s exactly what Barrie said about her, and explains her name. We also meet other fairies, like Rani, who loves water, and Vidia, a nasty fairy who loves to fly fast.
Knowing the characters would certainly provide more context for book number three, Fairies and the Quest for Never Land, but you could start here because the book really focuses on Gwendolyn, a descendent of Wendy, whose female ancestors have been flying off to Neverland with Peter ever since. Gwendolyn can’t wait for her turn, especially when Wendy’s “kiss” (the acorn a confused Peter gave her) gives her tantalizing visions of the island. Peter does eventually arrive, and when she gets to Neverland Gwendolyn rushes off to look for fairies.
That’s both the strength and the weakness of the book. Gwendolyn gets to meet all the fairies, and their guardian, Mother Dove. It’s lovely to find out about society in Fairy Haven, and to watch Gwendolyn learn what her own talent is as she struggles to be accepted by the fairies, and then to help them when a terrifying dragon is accidentally released. It’s a sweet story, exciting in spots, rather cute throughout.
My trouble, actually, is Peter. As long as he wasn’t in it at all (or just in a passing reference), I didn’t miss him–so the first two books were fine in that way. But when he’s in it a bit, suddenly it bothers me that Gwendolyn seems to have no interest in him at all. Likewise, Peter has very little interest in Gwendolyn (and keeps calling her Wendy). Peter’s arrogance and forgetfulness are very well-established so I don’t fault the character portrayal. But the magic of Peter appearing at the window to take someone to Neverland…well, part of it is a Cinderella story, that the special person sees you and chooses you and says that you’re special too. Peter didn’t seem to think Gwendolyn was special at all. I guess that’s all right, since what she really wanted was for Tink to think she’s special…but I think Peter’s special so it bothered me!
But that was mostly a side issue, a kind of absence of something that I thought should be there. What actually was there was good. It’s not Barrie’s Neverland–it’s a bit homier and a bit more practical. But it’s not painfully not Barrie’s Neverland either. And to be fair, the cover says it’s about “Disney Fairies,” so I suppose it doesn’t have to be based on Barrie at all, when it’s really coming from another source material. With that in mind, Levine has actually written something that’s impressively accurate to Barrie, when she probably didn’t need to be at all.
I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the illustrations. David Christiana did the illustrations for the entire series and they are absolutely beautiful. There are many full-page illustrations (or two-page, and even one fold-out!) and they add a wonderful dimension to the story. I like the book, but it’s actually the illustrations that are making me tempted to buy it!
This isn’t one of my favorite Levine books, but it is a fun look at Neverland from a different angle (even if sometimes a little TOO much that angle!) This is a simple, sweet, fast read–I’m glad I finished the series, because it was a lovely book and when I did finally read it, it only took me a day!
Author’s Site: http://gailcarsonlevine.com/