An origins story for Peter Pan, a dark twisted version of the well loved tale about the boy who never grows up. Christina Henry has a gift for twisting tales in twisted ways. Her duology Alice was disturbing, but in a way that meant I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page from start to finish. Lost Boy wasn’t quite up to those dizzying heights, but it was gripping and it was a very interesting take on the classic tale.
Jamie was the first one Peter chose. He’s been on the island the longest, apart from Peter. He knows it better than all the other boys, and he teaches them how to survive on the Island, because Peter never will. There’s the knockabout twins, happiest scuffling about on the floor; there’s the littlest one, his hair like a yellow fluffy duck and his temperament much the same, there’s the quiet one who knows he is ill, there’s the great big brutish new boy, who has yet to learn his place. They are Peter’s Lost Boys, from The Other Place, a place they can never return too. But Jamie was the first. He looks after the boys. But Jamie has been growing a little all that time, just a little. Maybe he isn’t destined to be a boy for always, and maybe the island and Peter have lost a little of their shine. Peter bought the other boys to join in the fun, but his version of fun is on the edge of a sword.
Peter says I am a villain. Peter lies.
Jamie is a boy, who is doing the work of an elder looking after all the boys on the island that Peter has bought to play with. He mourns every one they bury, because the island isn’t all fun and no rules and no grownups – it’s dangerous and boys are easily replaced. He loves Peter, but it’s interesting seeing how Jamie uses it as an excuse for all Peter’s macabre shortcomings. Jamie is a very angry young man. He has seen decades of death and not aged much in doing so. But he worries for the boys under his care, protects them from harm wherever he can. Sometimes he protects them from Peter. The re-direction of Jamie’s anger over the course of the book is fairly justified, even if many of his actions are not justifiable. His relationship with little Charlie, who he feels was too young for Peter to have bought from the Other Place, and his problems with how Peter’s self-absorption is hurting them all are well-developed themes.
The language and descriptions of the island can be blunt and lyrical, a little like explaining something you’d seen in the past with that dual layer of words you knew then, and words you know now. It’s really quite clever in some places. But the descriptions of the way magic worked – just as a fact of life and only considered interesting when one of the new boys encounters something for the first time, was incredibly well done. Jamie knows that there is a little magic on the island, but he doesn’t know the roots of it, he doesn’t know how this magic works, how the island magic works. He just knows that it does and gets on with the business of surviving and keeping the other boys alive. The way things are bought together at the end are pretty incredible really.
I really enjoyed this alternative, origin-story tale of how a little boy’s dangerous self-absorption and macabre fascination leads to the creation of a “villain”. While it wasn’t quite as disturbing as Alice, Lost Boy was incredibly dark, and Neverland is nothing at all like the Disney film would have you believe. Everything is out to kill you for a start.