I love a good retelling of a classic story. They’re all the rage: many celebrated authors try their hand at Shakespeare plays, others rewrite the Greek myths, and Disney releases live-action versions of their most beloved movies every year. I must admit I love all of them. That’s why I decided to read Christina Henry’s Lost Boy, which is a reimagining of my favourite book of all time, Peter Pan. Want to know whether it is a worthy companion to the original story? Read on!
You must have heard of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. He lives in Neverland, he has a band of boys always surrounding him, and there’s Indians, fairies, and mermaids. And of course, there’s Captain Hook. He’s the glorious villain, evil through and through. Or is he? That’s what Christina Henry’s Lost Boy is about: we hear the story from Jamie’s (for that’s Hook’s real name) point of view. And guess what: Peter isn’t as perfect as you might think – and James Hook isn’t evil at all.
Peter Pan is one of the ultimate heroes of children’s literature. He remains young forever, and his enemies are the grown-ups. Peter never remembers a thing, and that’s why he will never grow up. His lack of memory means that nothing ever changes. Christina Henry makes clever use of this idea in her novel Lost Boy, although she made a very important adjustment: Peter seems to be aware of his memories, but pretends not to be. He acts like nothing ever changes to keep his lost boys ignorant. He’s a selfish boy, and Jamie starts to realise that Peter doesn’t care about any of his friends, as long as there’s a gang of them he can play with. Eventually Jamie sees the full extent of Peter’s selfishness, and this is what brings about the process of reaching adulthood.
Growing up means the loss of ignorance, or the gaining of memories and independent thought. Jamie has been on Neverland for ages, but he hasn’t grown much at all. However, the more he distrusts Peter, the faster the changes come; his voice is becoming lower, and he starts growing a beard. Moreover, he falls in love with a girl, taking his focus away from Peter and escaping his magic. His memories and experiences appear to weigh on him, which alludes to one of the most famous quotations from Barrie’s Peter Pan: “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
What I liked about Lost Boy is that it reimagines Barrie’s theory of growing up. According to that quotation, there is only childhood and adulthood, with nothing in between. However, Henry suggests that the process of growing up is gradual. There’s a vague time at which one is neither a child nor a grownup; Jamie’s slow realisation that Peter might not be the perfect boy he imagined him to be mirrors his steady and inescapable path to adulthood. At first he’s desperate to believe in Peter, but eventually he knows that he cannot fool himself anymore. He cannot pretend any longer that he hasn’t grown up.
While reading Lost Boy, I wasn’t sure what I thought of it. Being such a fan of the original Peter Pan, part of me was determined to be disappointed by this retelling. However, another part of me couldn’t help but admire how Henry incorporated Barrie’s legacy into her own story, one much more horrific and gory than the original. I liked how she changed the traditional idea that the perfect Peter was fighting his evil nemesis, Captain Hook. While she omitted some details (that Hook was educated at Eton, for instance) and other things simply failed to make much sense (the Many-eyed-spider-things felt out of place, somehow, as well as the endless descriptions of the Lost Boys fighting them), I enjoyed reading this version, since it added depth to Hook’s character.
It has been over a hundred years since Peter Pan was published. While it is a children’s classic, one cannot deny that the genre of children’s literature has evolved immensely over the years. Christina Henry writes young-adult novels, a genre that simply didn’t exist when Barrie was alive. It seems, therefore, that the audience of Peter Pan has grown up, too; they’re not quite children anymore, and demand more than the simple, seemingly perfect Peter. Instead, they demand a more relatable and realistic story with more complex characters, and more blood. Jamie’s tragic story definitely makes more sense to the modern audience than Peter’s. It also helps that the full title of this book is Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook; some Goodreads reviewers prefer this version over the original, and they consider this the real version.
Peter Pan will always be remembered as the boy who wouldn’t grow up, and he will always remain a popular literary character. We might no longer believe in the boy himself, but there will always be a part of us that longs for Neverland. Some part of us will always feel nostalgic for a childhood that has long since ended. Retellings such as Christina Henry’s Lost Boy are important, for they breathe new life into the classic stories, and they remind us that some things will never change. Nor would we want them to.
What do you think of Peter Pan and Lost Boy? Do you like retellings, or should we always stick to the original? Let me know in the comments! Also make sure to follow me for more book musings!