Monday, June 22, 2009

Peter and the Story-Crashers

Just finished reading "Peter and the Starcatchers" by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and have to wonder why they bothered. To me -and I don't think I'm too far off on this - the real appeal of James Barrie's story of Peter Pan lies in that it is a fairy tale that we are invited to accept without exposition. So for Barry and Pearson to come in with this exposition - explaining away the magic of Never-Never Land with starstuff, an idealistic organization guarding it and a sinister organization covering it - robs the story of it's otherworld appeal.

Never-Never Land, as we know, is "second star to the right and straight on till morning." Pearson and Barry want Never-Never Land to be on some Caribbean island, where Peter Pan is created by accident and ignorance as he monkeys with a box of starstuff, from whence he gains the ability to fly and the inability to grow up. I don't want Never-Never Land to be bound by Earth, and, for me, it doesn't have to be. Wendy, Peter and John suspend belief when they fly away with Pan; I -and I believe Barrie as well - want to do exactly the same thing. This "backstory" brings Never-Never Land to the cheap, shoddy world of the paper moon and the cardboard sky.

When did the fairy tale die? Have we lost enough faith in everything, in God, in imagination, in the ability to suspend belief for the sake of a good tale, that we have to know why Peter Pan can fly, or how Captain Hook got his name? Apparently so. We want to be an insider now, someone knowing the story before it happens, looking for clues, having to know, and know now, why things happen, not that they just happen. We can't take it on faith any more that Peter Pan can fly, that he can lose his shadow, that the Lost Boys were once a simpering band of of orphans, rather than another bunch of boys who won't grow up no matter what anyone says, because no one is bathing in asking the why's behind the story. Pearson and Barry could have written an exciting Peter Pan tale, instead they answer the first easy question that comes to mind.

Yes, when I read stories to my children, I get a lot of questions: why this, and how come that? I like to say, "What do you think," and we discuss their answers. But more often than not, I just say, "Let's see if we can fund out by reading some more." I love to see them get wrapped up in the stories, to genuinely worry that the terrible giants will eat the heroine on Roald Dahl's "The BFG." we can find out through our own imagination, through deduction and inference, what is likely to happen, and we're often surprised to find out that what we though would happen does indeed come to pass. I don't get that from Pearson and Barry.

I look at stories like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, even J.R.R. Tolkein's works, where exposition is nonexistent or kept to a minimum, and I realize I just love them for the stories. I don't want to know why the Hatter is mad, nor why the Duchess' cook has her pepper fetish, nor why the Queen of Hearts plays croquet with hedgehogs and flamingoes. I love the stories for the sheer fairy-tale, the nonsense, the ability to leave this world for another that is like the one I'm in - unexplainable.

So, too, do I think of Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton's version. I don't believe the exposition - the addition of Willy Wonka's father, Wonka's childhood, and such - is necessary. I don't know why I need Wonka's backstory. Exposition to a point is fine, but I'm beginning to feel about it as Mark Twain felt about adjectives: "When you see an adjective, kill it."


Cubby said...

Those of us who believe in the dreams of faeries and mysterious islands and Lost Boys led by their Captain also believe in the magic and mystery surrounding them and don't need or want a "why". There will always be those who try to peek behind the curtain and then make spectacular proclamations about the "real" reason events happened (how else do you explain politicians). Fortunately those who have faith recognize such attempts and keep wondering about such things and places as their creators intended.

The Never Fairy said...

I agree.
Besides everything you present in this article, did you notice the sheer amount of contradictions? Not only that, but Peter Pan already had a backstory per Barrie. It's as if Barry & Pearson never bothered to read the original stories!

A quick note - the word "star" in the Neverland directions had been inserted by Disney. It's not included in the actual play and book - as they're meant to be ambiguous. And the magical island, according to Barrie, is in fact on Earth.

You might want to check out this Peter Pan adventure. It's based on Barrie's own ideas for more.
Click my name to see.

Thanks for being a discerning reader ;)


Mister Fweem said...

Weeeeelll, you're right in that the phrase "second star to the right, and straight on till morning" is from Disney and not from Barrie, but the star, I think, is implied:

They would have reached the nursery in time had it not been that the little stars were watching them. Once again the stars blew the window open, and that smallest star of all called out:

‘Cave, Peter!’

Then Peter knew that there was not a moment to lose. ‘Come,’ he cried imperiously, and soared out at once into the night, followed by John and Michael and Wendy.

Mr and Mrs Darling and Nana rushed into the nursery too late. The birds were flown.

(end of chapter 3)

‘Second to the right, and straight on till morning.’

That, Peter had told Wendy, was the way to the Neverland; but even birds, carrying maps and consulting them at windy corners, could not have sighted it with these instructions. Peter, you see, just said anything that came into his head.

I don't know why Barry and Person had to invent their own exposition when such exists that is more magical than starstuff. Oh well.