Is Peter Pan a villain?

When it comes to storytelling, who is the villain and who is the hero? Sometimes it depends on point of view.

Take Peter Pan. Originally written by J.M. Barrie, the story of the lost boy from Neverland has been popularized by Disney, on Broadway and on television. We all know the story of Peter Pan, the adventurous, valiant boy who refuses to grow up.

But what if Peter Pan as a character is someone much darker than we want to admit?

peter-pan

Over at Tor.com, Emily Asher-Perrin writes a terrific essay that reassesses this much loved childhood story, and she makes a convincing case that at best, Peter is a scary hero who comes close to being the true villain of the story.

Here’s a summary of her evidence:

–Neverland is a world that caters to his every desire. He’s the dictator of that realm. Whatever he says, goes. That’s a lot of power—maybe too much power—for a hero to possess.

–When Neverland gets too crowded with lost boys, Peter Pan thins out the herd. In her essay, Asher-Perrin uses a single word to describe this: murder. Ouch.

–He cares little for Wendy or her family apart from their ability to amuse him. When bored, he’ll just find another Wendy to take away.

–And then there’s Captain Hook. We’ve always believed he was the villain. But think about it: Peter Pan cut his hand off and fed it to a crocodile. No wonder Hook is pissed.

These are intriguing arguments. But the most compelling piece of evidence (which Asher-Perrin does discuss) is the sum of all this. Peter Pan is basically selfish. He’s a self-involved character who refuses to grow up, and who creates an entire world—Neverland—which is his to rule.

When you look at Peter Pan in this way — as a character whose growth has been stunted — it’s fitting that he loses his shadow. Carl Jung would have a field day with Peter Pan.

Pan myth

And then there’s the fact that in Greek myth, Pan is a hedonistic, wild, goat-like god. He’s all about pleasure, as is our supposed hero, Peter. When you add this all up, you get someone you’d definitely want to keep at arm’s length.

 

 

 

Read this book: Bitter Seeds

Ian Tregillis’s alt history/sci-fi mashup scores big on imagination, even if many of his characters are flat.

bitter seeds 1

Aside from the supernatural/horror/sci-fi, another thing I’m a fan of in pop culture is alternative histories. The “what if” has always fascinated me, mainly because it lets the imagination run away.

In his book Bitter Seeds, Ian Tregillis combines not only sci-fi, but also horror, with alternative history. Add nazis, arguably one of the best villain groups of all time, to that mix and you’ve got a recipe for a great story.

bitter seeds 3The plot: in Germany, a mad scientist is creating his own band of supermen, soldiers capable of such things as turning invisible, starting fire, and predicting the future. As war looms between Germany and the rest of Europe, the British government forms a group called Milkweed to investigate these reports. Soon a covert battle ensues as the British group use warlocks to summon dark forces to battle the nazis.

It’s actually a complicated plot to explain in a few tight sentences. Our hero is Raybould Marsh, a pugnacious British secret agent who is sent to investigate the reports of these supermen. Soon he summons his college friend Will, a warlock initiated in a blood rite that allows him to communicate with beings called Eidolons. When you think of Eidolons, think Lovecraft. These mysterious beings are not kindly or benevolent. They see humans as no better than ants. They would gladly destroy us but they exist in a different plane, and can never pin us down. Blood helps them get closer. Tregillis doesn’t fully explain what the Eidolons are, but he doesn’t need to. My imagination filled the gaps just fine.

Meanwhile, the German team of superheroes is on the verge of falling apart. They were Bitter-Seeds 2created when they were just children, bought by a scientist who experimented on them (horribly, one would assume, judging from the body count) until he had his team in place. They wear batteries that are hooked to wires embedded in their skulls, which allows them to access their superpowers. This is one of Tregillis’s strengths — he employs, simple, believable technology suited for the era. Think steampunk circa 1930s.

The German story centers on two characters: Klaus, who can dematerialize and move through walls, and his sister Gretel, an enigmatic sociopath who knows the future (though she rarely reveals it). Gretel is perhaps the most compelling character. Why? She is always a mystery, always unpredictable, and always uncontrolled. She’s fascinating to watch.

The breakdown. What was good about Bitter Seeds?

–The concept was fun. Who doesn’t love watching nazis get beat?

–As mentioned above. Gretel was by far my favorite character, though Will, the aristocratic warlock, was a close second. Tregillis convincingly drew a man who grew more and more tortured, especially as the Eidolons demanded higher blood prices as the battle continued.

–The Eidolons themselves were a fantastic creation. Thoroughly dangerous, extremely powerful, callously indifferent. I want more.

–Tregillis is a skilled writer. As a writer myself, I’m always appreciative of someone who takes great care in the writing of a story.

And the not so good:

Bitter Seeds suffers from something I see a lot in fiction. I call it the running in circles plot. Maybe the writer isn’t sure what to do next. Maybe the writer needs to up his page count. But sometimes a story starts running in circles, where the characters are going back and forth (sometimes literally) and not really getting anywhere. Not much plot movement, maybe a little character development. There were several times when I could feel the story lapsing into this.

–Aside from Gretel and Will, I cared little about any of the other characters. Our hero, Marsh, was fine, but he never made the leap off the page for me. Similarly, Klaus was very one note. His whole role was to protect his sister Gretel, and that’s all he did. The Germans, especially, were largely forgettable.

Nevertheless, Bitter Seeds (which is book one in a trilogy) is inventive, imaginative and thrilling. I’m looking forward to discovering where Tregillis will take us next.