Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Review: Peter Darling by Austin Chant

4.5 stars

Peter Darling is a beautiful queer fairy tale that is both whimsical and poignantly real. It revolves around Peter Pan returning to Neverland as an adult, taking refuge from the real world where he is forced to live in the body of a young woman named Wendy Darling. Things have changed in Neverland and Captain Hook and the Lost Boys are no longer at war, but Peter resumes his old feud with Hook all the same, only to discover that his old nemesis now evokes a whole other set of feelings.

At the beginning of the book, we see Peter much as one would imagine: he's the boy that never grew up, playing his war games without thought for the cost of his vendetta. As much as I came to love Peter - and the book - I struggled a little bit with this initial third of the story because of the senseless and casual violence Peter inflicts. However, I think this has more to do with me and my sensitivity to violence than the book itself. Hook also reveals to Peter - and thus the reader - something about the nature of Neverland that made the violence much easier for me to bear, allowing me to get lost in the story in a way that I had previously been prevented from doing. Similarly, regardless of how I reacted to it personally, this initial immaturity is essential to Peter's character, and his progression to realising the consequences of his actions - while still maintaining his boyish enthusiasm - was masterful.

The energetic and impulsive Peter is balanced perfectly by Hook's ennui-stricken and world-weary facade, and the relationship between the two was everything you ever wanted from the enemies-to-lovers trope. Both characters are morally ambiguous, and the Neverland here is not the sanitised version of the Disney film, but - as I mentioned earlier - one with real dangers, real violence, and slightly sinister undertones like those in old fairy tales.

Nevertheless, Chant's Neverland is the best kind of fantasy world, the kind that frees us from the oppressive realities of our world, instead of replicating them. There, Peter isn't faced with gender dysphoria, or disapproval, judgement and condescension from his family. Neither must James remember the sorrows of his life in the 'real world' of post-WWI Britain.

This has been a short review - by my standards - but it's very hard to capture the magic of Peter Darling in words. It's rekindled my childhood love of the story, when I would open the copy of the book my great-uncle had given me just to look at the pictures, or when I watched my VHS copy of the animated movie so many times that it eventually unspooled in the video player, breaking them both. But it's added another deeper dimension to the story, and, as far as I'm concerned, Disney and J. M. Barrie can both go home, because Peter Darling is now canon Peter Pan. 

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