For such a big fan of fairy tales, you would think that I’d have a healthy appreciation for one of the 20th Century’s preeminent fairy tale creations, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. But in truth, I’ve never much cared for the little imp, even now that my 4-year-old son is obsessed with him and has me regularly dress up as Captain Hook to fight him. Too much Edwardian stuffiness; too much casual racism; and too little meaty subtext aside from the obvious veneration of childhood.
So it was a bit of a surprise to me how much I enjoyed the book under review today, Lisa Jensen’s Alias Hook. A huge part of the appeal for me was Jensen’s decision to move the main action of Hook’s story from the Edwardian age of Barrie to the true period of the pirates in the early 18h Century. I also quite liked Jensen’s acknowledgement of the essential cruelty of Pan and the Lost Boys toward Hook and his men, even if in the end Jensen reaffirms the importance of Pan in our imaginations.
Most importantly, this is a tremendously character-driven novel, and Jensen gives powerful life to Hook and his love interest, Stella, in a way that would not have ever made sense for Barrie.
JENSEN, Lisa. Alias Hook. 368p. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. July 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781250042156; ebk. ISBN 9781466839717.
In her inventive take on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Jensen takes the inherently iterative nature of such fairy tales and literalizes it: Pan does not merely defeat Capt. Hook again and again in each retelling or rereading of the tale; here he is actually reincarnated after each defeat, fitted with a new crew, and offered up to be defeated by Pan once more. As the novel opens, Hook has been trapped in Neverland for some 200 years and wishes for nothing more than a true death. But something else is afoot. He knows that his crews are made up of old Lost Boys, wandering back to Neverland as adults, but never has a “Wendy” returned, until Stella makes her appearance. After some initial bafflement and bluster, Hook and Stella fall in love, and together they attempt to unravel the mystery of the curse that has kept Hook prey to Pan for so many years. Jensen’s attempts at mythology here, especially the specifics of the curse, are a bit convoluted, but it doesn’t much matter—the heart of this highly affecting novel is the intertwined stories of the redemption of a seemingly irredeemable man, and the powerful love story of Hook and Stella. Ultimately this is less a deconstruction—indeed, Jensen’s take on the importance of childhood and Neverland is surprisingly consonant with Barrie’s—than an extension that teen fans of Peter Pan—whether the original play and novel, the Disney film, or any other variant since—should highly enjoy.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA