By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

By the Book #36 – Wendy, Darling by A. C. Wise

Do we ever truly grow up? Or will there always be a part of us that remains a child forever? A. C. Wise's Peter Pan retelling Wendy, Darling tries to settle the matter once and for all.

All children, except one, grow up. It’s inevitable. When we grow up, we learn more about ourselves and the world, and I, for one, love it. Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, has inspired countless artists for over a hundred years. I recently read a brand-new retelling, Wendy, Darling, by A.C. Wise. My inner child loved it, but the part of me that has grown up wasn’t quite so positive. In fact, those two parts of me kept arguing about it. Want to know what that was like? Read on!  

Young Elke: “Oh, Elke, look, here’s a new Peter Pan retelling! And it’s about Wendy! Remember how you used to be jealous at her for going on an adventure with Peter, while you couldn’t even fly? Come on, let’s buy it!”

Grown-up Elke: “I wasn’t jealous, really, for I knew it was a fantasy book to begin with. I’m not sure whether this novel is any good, especially judging by all those dreadful retellings I’ve read over the years. But sure, I’ll give it a go if you really want to.”

Young Elke: “Hurrah! Ok, here we go! Hey, this is interesting, the story takes place in the 1930s, and Wendy is married and has a daughter, Jane. Oh, and Peter takes Jane away! And Wendy has been in an asylum because her brothers thought she had gone mad since she always talked about Neverland. Well, that’s quite interesting!”

Grown-up Elke: “It is. Actually, it could even be a feminist retelling, and you know how much I like those.”

Young Elke: “What’s feminist?”

Grown-up Elke: “It means it’s about strong female characters.”

Young Elke: “Oh, like us?”

Grown-up Elke: “Well, yes. Well, we want to be. Well, we try.”

Young Elke: “You don’t sound very sure of yourself.”

Grown-up Elke: “That’s because you start doubting yourself at one point in your life. You’ll find out what that’s like when you grow up.”

Young Elke: “Oh no, I don’t want to grow up! I’m having too much fun being a child! Let’s just continue reading.”

Grown-up Elke: “Let’s. Also, let’s not talk about how I’ve just reached the age of thirty and there’s still so much I want to do with my life. If I just read this book, I can pretend nothing’s the matter. Right. Wendy, Darling. I don’t like how in-your-face A. C. Wise is. She’s so desperate to place Wendy in the real world: her parents died on the Titanic, and her brother Michael was wounded in the First World War. Why would her parents go on a trip to America, leaving their young children behind? It doesn’t make any sense!”

Young Elke: “Oh, come on. That’s just details. I for one loved it when Wendy flew to Neverland on her own…”

Grown-up Elke: “Well, yes, but how on earth was she able to do that?”

Young Elke: “Sssht. I’ll try again, and hope you won’t interrupt me this time. I loved when she flew to Neverland and found the island deserted and dead. The pirates had left, the mermaids were dead, and Tiger Lily wasn’t the fun Indian she used to be.”

Grown-up Elke: “No, Peter forced her to grow up, which was the worst possible punishment he could think of.”

Young Elke: “Well, judging from your bitterness, growing up must be quite terrible, indeed.”

Grown-up Elke: “It’s not, really. You just look at the world in a different way, and you get better at judging people.”

Young Elke: “Oh, like Wendy in the novel, then? She used to consider Neverland home, instead of the London she lives in. So when she is back in Neverland and everything is dead, she realises that she belongs in London after all. Does that mean that Wendy has finally grown up?”

Grown-up Elke: “Yes, it does! Wendy understands that Neverland was never her home, and she only kept believing in it so she had something to hold on to. Neverland was a figment of Peter’s imagination, and she was never a real part of it. She comes to terms with the idea that Peter is not the perfect boy she always told herself he was. In fact, parts of Peter are downright evil, but she never saw it.”

Young Elke: “But how come Jane, Wendy’s daughter, never fully trusts Peter?”

Grown-up Elke: “I don’t know. And that really frustrates me. There are so many questions left unanswered in Wendy, Darling. Why did Jamieson, the cruel guard at the asylum, hate Wendy so much? Why did she and Wendy become such close friends? Why didn’t Wendy’s brothers believe her?”

Young Elke: “I hadn’t even considered those questions, because I was just enjoying the story. Thanks, Elke, you’ve spoiled it for me. Oh, but there’s one question I did keep asking myself: where did Hook go? I so would have loved to see him, because he’s purely evil. He’s my favourite villain.”

Grown-up Elke: “It’s funny you should say that. One of the best things about being a grown-up is being able to look at something from someone else’s perspective. That’s how you know there is no such thing as pure evil. Oh, by the way, did you know that, in the original Peter Pan story, James Hook was from Eton, and he hated Peter because he was cocky and didn’t listen to anyone?”

Young Elke: “Wait, what? Hook had his reasons to hate Peter? He wasn’t really evil?”

Grown-up Elke: “Yes. And in Wendy, Darling, it becomes clear that Peter also has his reasons for behaving the way he does.”

Young Elke: “Well, Peter’s shadow is definitely evil.”

Grown-up Elke: “Actually, I think there’s good and evil inside of Peter, and his shadow symbolises his dark side.”

Young Elke: “Do I have one, too?”

Grown-up Elke: “Well, not a dark side per se, but as you grow older you realise that you make mistakes, and that you do things you’d rather forget.”

Young Elke: “And does your shadow grow darker? Or does it fly away sometimes, like Peter’s?”

Grown-up Elke: “Of course it doesn’t. You just have to accept that you’re not perfect, just like Peter has to do in Wendy, Darling – and just like Wendy, for that matter.”

Young Elke: “Wow. The grown-up world surely is a lot more complex than I thought. Still, I thought the book we’ve just read was quite easy to understand.”

Grown-up Elke: “Yes, it was. And that’s why, ultimately, I think I didn’t really like this book. A. C. Wise clearly wanted to add depth to Wendy’s character, but in my opinion, she failed to do so.”

Young Elke: “Well, you said she was a feminist, and she survived staying at an asylum for years, didn’t you? That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? And Wendy is the real hero here, because she manages to get Jane back, and sew Peter’s shadow back on.”

Young Elke: “Well, if that isn’t hero behaviour, I don’t know what is.”

Grown-up Elke: “You’re right, it is fun to read, but I still felt like something was missing. Wendy’s character doesn’t develop at all, and that’s why I felt like A.C. Wise wasn’t quite sure whether she wanted to write a children’s story or a novel for adults.”

Young Elke: “Is that why you decided to write this blog post like this, pretending you had a conversation about Wendy, Darling with your younger self?”

Grown-up Elke: “How clever of you! Yes, I wanted this conversation to reflect how I read this novel: both as a children’s book and a novel for adults. And I found I couldn’t really read it like a child anymore.”

Young Elke: “Are you saying you’ve lost the ability to enjoy books?”

Grown-up Elke: “Oh no, not at all! I just think about them more than I used to. And I love analysing books almost just as much.”

Young Elke: “But analysing books and enjoying them is not the same! You’re boring! I can’t believe I’ll grow up and turn into you!”

Grown-up Elke: “Watch out, you’re starting to sound like Peter. Being an adult can be quite fun, you know.”

Young Elke: “I don’t believe you.”

Grown-up Elke: “Ok, let me make this promise to you: I will never be completely grown up. There will always be a part of me that wants to read children’s books, that wants to play make-believe, that wants to see things with a child’s perspective, and that wants to hold on to the feeling of being a child.”

Young Elke: “And how do I know you’re not lying?”

Grown-up Elke, after a short pause: “You’re here now, aren’t you?”

What did you think of Wendy, Darling? Which Peter Pan retelling is your favourite? Do you think reading becomes less fun when you’re an adult? Please do let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

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