Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

September 2, 2012 at 13:37 (Adventure, Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fairy Tales, Fiction, Highly Rated Books) (, , , , , )

8/10

Sometimes, large shoes can be filled. This is a difficult thing to do, and even authors with famous names or literary renown fall spectacularly and catastrophically short of the mark, when trying to pick up the pen of a more gifted man or woman. Neither Barry nor Pearson are novice authors, but nor could it be said that either of them are burdened with a tremendous amount of experience in children’s literature (which is harder to write than many people expect, and all the more awful when it is done badly). In Peter and the Starcatchers the authors choose an especially difficult subject, being as it is a story that has been recast and reimagined countless times by dozens of storytellers throughout the course of a century. The prospect of borrowing from other adaptations or traditions, or the wilder temptation to take the story in a totally unexpected and erratic direction, must have been frightfully difficult to resist.

“‘What’s Never Land?’ said a boynamed Prentiss, who was fairly new to the orphanage and thus did not see the fist until it hit his ear.”

-Peter and the Starcatchers

As it is, this first book has some rough edges. Barry and Pearson aim staunchly for the centre of the old adventuring tradition, and if they do not score a perfect bull’s eye, then at least they score close enough to conjure up the magic of the classics they seek to emulate. Their writing is not beautiful, and they do not demonstrate the ability to clutch a reader’s heartstrings, to cause hands to slip nerveless on pages, or a wistful sigh to punctuate the turning of the final page. But if the reader remembers that this is a tribute and an addendum to the original story and not a displacement, if the reader begins this book in a spirit of adventure and a willingness to be thrilled, then it is a very rewarding experience indeed.

There are some characters who will grow tiresome, and there are a few damp squibs, where the story builds up to a rollicking climax only to back off half apologetically and try again, but for a reader willing to forgive occasional lapses, and who is willing to become as excited by the story as the authors clearly are, then this is a book to stay up all night reading.

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3 Comments

  1. David said,

    “Their writing is not beautiful, and they do not demonstrate the ability to clutch a reader’s heartstrings, to cause hands to slip nerveless on pages, or a wistful sigh to punctuate the turning of the final page.”

    I’m quite pleased by this review. I’ve seen this book “make the rounds”, as it were, on various review blogs, and have seen it in stores, and I’ve wondered whether it could possibly be as good as the cover suggests. What I want, of course, is the impossibility of more written by Barrie himself, and to some degree I fear that this book would just be polished, officially-sanctioned fan fiction. Peter Pan is one of my favorite stories, and I do think it is unique in that it suggests endless possible adventures that could be written for its titular hero. But could anyone but J.M. Barrie capture that uniquely British, early twentieth century fairy tale charm? Your review seems to acknowledge that this book doesn’t quite succeed in matching the legacy, but is nonetheless good enough to wear proudly the 8/10. What, then, is the book’s main virtue? What makes it fun? Is it the plot, or interesting, lively characters?

    • J. Holsworth Stevenson said,

      David, that’s an excellent question. I wish I’d thought of it. I don’t think anyone could accuse Dave Barry of capturing anything “uniquely British” (nobody who’s read any of his columns, that is), and in fact I refused at first to believe it was the same Dave Barry of newspapery rogueishness.

      As I mentioned in the first paragraph of my review, the first hurdle the writers successfully navigated that gave me hope for the book was their refusal to slavishly copy the pantomime or Disney traditions, and try a tasteless mash-up of the various Peter Pan interpretations. They balanced on a knife edge, without damaging the essence of Peter Pan and making it drastically different. For this alone, I would be impressed and interested.

      When I think of writers with magical charm, I think of Kate DiCamillo and her plainly visible love of even the lowliest of her characters, or Sutcliff’s matter-of-fact way of telling complicated or painful things in two or three words; or Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s manner of trailing a finger lazily through a Sunday afternoon’s river of life.

      Frankly, Pearson and Barry don’t have any of this. But if I’m honest, nor did some other great adventure writers. The origin of my own nom de plume, R.L. Stevenson, for instance; or Johann Davis Wyss, or Jonathan Swift: they were masters of stirring adventures, but hardly the most dextrous of writers.

      I think for Peter and the Starcatchers, one of the chief successes is a successful recasting and revisiting of an adventure in the cast of these others I’ve mentioned. If the greatest success is that Barry and Pearson didn’t ruin it, then that is a fair success! But allow me to explain myself there. I believe that dipping into somebody else’s story and emerging – not merely unscathed, but with a worthwhile story to tell for it – is a deucedly hard thing to achieve, and worth a rousing cheer (if not necessarily worshipful accolades).

      • David said,

        There is truth in that, and I think I see better now why you enjoyed the book. I’ll understand even better once I read it myself, to be sure; certainly after this review, I intend to. Do you intend to read the other books in the series? The mere idea of these books does excite me — after all, Neverland and Peter’s life with the Lost Boys seems tailor-made for serial adventures.

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