Book: Peter and the Starcatchers

Peter and the Starcatchers
Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Illustrator: Greg Call
2004

Warning: Major Spoilers!!

Peter and the Starcatchers is intended to be a prequel to J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy. It is written by two American writers (yes, it is that Dave Barry) and published by an American publishing house (Hyperion Books for Children) with Disney’s blessing. The story explains how Peter and the lost boys and the pirates and the mermaids and Tinkerbell came to live on the island called Neverland. There are a great number of other characters in the book that are not present in Peter and Wendy, and thus have to leave by the end of the book. The story follows the adventures of a pair of ships transporting five orphan boys from London, one wilful little girl, and a large box full of “starstuff” (magic dust that falls to earth in shooting stars). The book is long, but reads quickly. The writing is funny and generally enjoyable to read, but it doesn’t save the story.

I really didn’t like this book very much. The plot makes little sense and feels rather forced. It feels like something made up by adults to explain something that fundamentally can’t be really understood and accepted by anyone but children. They give explanations of things that directly contradict the explanations given by Barrie in the original book and play. Barry and Pearson’s vision of events removes much of the magic and fun from Neverland. Peter grows up in an orphanage in London; he has no reason in particular to want to remain a little boy. In fact, his life as a little boy totally sucks. To explain Peter not growing up, they use the “magic” starstuff.

The starstuff explains everything from the mermaids to Tinkerbell, to why the pirates are on the island, to why Peter can fly. And it leaves giant holes in the story. The starstuff is removed from the island, so why can other people fly later? Without exposure to starstuff, how do Wendy and her brothers learn to fly? Where are all the other fairies if Tinkerbell was the only one made? Why didn’t the pirates ever just repair their ship (which shouldn’t have been much damaged in the first place) and leave the island? Why does Peter not remember what a kiss is when he meets Wendy when he thinks a lot about it in this book? It doesn’t make sense. And Peter isn’t terribly likable. He’s stubborn and a show-off and doesn’t seem to care a whole lot for anyone else. Peter is supposed to be likable, if slightly frustrating.

The pictures are nice. I like the rough black and white style. It reminds me of carved clay sometimes. The problem is that it too lacks magic and often doesn’t match the text. The ships look cool, but the characters seem wrong and the world seems boring and real rather than exciting and magical. The pictures are very pretty, but I’m not sure they match this book.

Perhaps one of my biggest concerns with this book was the utter dependence on adults. Peter and Molly are important in moving the plot forward, but they always turn to the adults for guidance and protection. The children seem to be always just trying to stabilize the situation until some adult they trust can come along and take over for them. They need an adult to help with their plans, to protect them from danger, and to deal with the mess that is made of the situation on the island. And yet they have ample evidence that the adults have no idea what they are doing and are rather unhelpful. Until Molly’s father comes. He fixes everything as if by magic. And the only reason that the boys don’t leave the island with him and Molly is that Peter doesn’t want to be ostracized in London for never growing up and his friends don’t want to go back without him (to a horrible orphanage). Why the pirates stick around after the starstuff is gone, I have no idea. Peter is supposed to be a strong, self-reliant and independent character. He is none of those things in this book.

This book lacked cohesion, flow and the feeling of magic that it promised. It didn’t feel like a child’s fantasy at all. It felt like an adults explanation of a child’s fantasy so that it doesn’t seem stupid to them anymore. Except that it wasn’t stupid to begin with. It was wonderful. I wouldn’t recommend this book. Read the original, Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie, which is a genuine masterpiece, and forget that this book ever existed.

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