Tiger-Lily, not Wendy, is the Darling: Women Who Run With The Crows
Jodi Lynn Anderson has written a darker version of Peter Pan, Although this is probably aimed at readers who are early teens girls, the quality of the writing, and the exploration of the world, meant that this very far away from any teen-age reader, was thoroughly absorbed and admiring of it
Do not think of any sort of popcorn Disney version, or even the sweet safety provided by the Darling pere and mere, Nana or Wendy as proto-mama in training to Lost Boys.
Instead, this is a story of first love and the absolute potential pain of that – of being betrayed or worse, never even figuring on your beloved’s radar; it is a story of death, violence, of being outcast and beyond the pale of your tribe, of the corrupting, dictatorial nature of patriarchal religion; a story of impossible demands of duty and loyalty to the belief systems of your tribe, of the confusions of gender identity and ‘what a girl should be’ and how small, delicate balances between differing groups of people occupying a territory (Pirates, Lost Boys, The Tribe) can be undone by the smallest of taboos being broken, the smallest of alliances being made, causing a tidal weight of change.
It’s not like this:
The narrator for Anderson’s dark story, whose central character is a strong, complex, feisty, deep thinking and feeling Tiger Lily, is the ‘do you believe in fairies’ Tinkerbell. And moreover this Tinkerbell has a subtle ‘Nana like’ care for Tiger Lily as that dog did for the well-scrubbed, well-heeled Darling children in Barrie-land
However, this is also a Tinkerbell who falls deeply and hopelessly in love with Peter, as both she and Tiger Lily do and is then caught on the painful place between love, loyalty and care for Tiger-Lily, and the intense jealousy she feels that Tiger Lily is Peter’s chosen one, at least for a while. So there is also something about the challenges of friendship versus self-interest, when they conflict.
Tink is as complex and enjoyable a narrator as someone who can’t actually speak words out loud can be She can communicate by thought, in words – the reader can receive her thoughts, but she is incapable of vocalisation, so she can only nip, bite, buzz in an insect like way to attract or distract the attention of humans, or indeed vicious mermaids. And most of those nipped and buzzed at humans will probably think the nipping was done by a gnat, and account said gnat of no value at all. At least (occasionally) Peter and Tiger Lily do seem to notice she is something other than featureless gnat.
Tiger Lily is a magnificent heroine. Adopted daughter of a shaman, wise, individualised, challenging and thoughtful, this is no princess needing rescue. In fact SHE is the rescuer – though her rescuing of a washed up sailor is the event which begins to unravel Neverland.
Life is not always easy for challenging heroines however. Even wild Lost Boys who appear to admire strong, intelligent, truthful independent females may prove rather sickening pushovers for manipulative females playing their simpering wiles. Yes, that is Wendy, when she eventually appears upon the scene. And how we are taught to despise her (and Peter too) Hiss, boo the Wendy villain!
This is an excellent, provocative reading of a Shadow-Side Neverland. Anderson rescues some of the more peripheral characters from Barrie’s story, and places them centre stage.
Her cast of characters are fearsome, entertaining, hateful, loveable, irritating and all are recognisably individual. A page turning pacy plot, whether or not you are familiar with the original Barrie and the more winsome Disney or not, this is enjoyable. But probably MORE so if you have an awareness of the original, and can then absolutely appreciate the clever subversion of this.
Audience: YA and adults who love other readings of childhood staples.
I received this as a review copy from the Amazon Vine UK programme