Peter Pan Pastiche: Peter David Talks Tigerheart

Peter David on Tigerheart

Peter Pan has been through dozens of iterations since J.M. Barrie first used him in The Little White Bird in 1902. Plenty of creators have done their own depiction of Pan in works ranging from sequels to cartoons to…whatever Hook was. But veteran comics writer Peter David has earned rave reviews with his own vision of Peter Pan in his all-ages prose novel Tigerheart, which was recently released in paperback.

Tigerheart’s vision of Pan actually goes back to Barrie’s original novel for its prose style, which often comments on the action to the audience. It’s the tale of Paul Dear, a good boy who is devoted to his parents. But when tragedy fractures his family, Paul goes on a mission to “the Anyplace” to find “The Boy” from the stories his father once told him. There, he discovers The Boy has been corrupted by the shade of his late foe “Captain Hack,” and that saving his family will require him to give up a precious remnant of his childhood.

Though The Boy plays a major role in the story and its resolution, from start to finish, Tigerheart is decidedly Paul’s tale. “Paul is the reason I decided to make this a pastiche, rather than use the names of the original characters,” David says. “If you write something as a sequel to Peter Pan and market it as such, Peter Pan needs to be the lead. His desires and motivations need to be what the story’s about.

“The more that I developed Tigerheart, the more I realized this wasn’t the case. It became more and more clear as I wrote the book that Paul was the driving force, and Pan was the supporting character. You can’t have Peter Pan as a supporting character in a book about Peter Pan!

For that matter, David consciously devised Paul to be a polar opposite of Paul/The Boy. “When writing Tigerheart, I also chose to comment on the priorities of The Boy, and the kids who are involved,” David says. “Unlike Barrie’s original work, the protagonist in this one is not selfish. Peter Pan in the original is very self-obsessed. Wendy, Michael and John go flying off with him without giving a second thought to how their parents will react to finding their children gone, because going off to Neverland sounds like a great adventure!

“All the kids in Peter Pan are self-centered. By contrast, the events in Tigerheart are driven by the lead character, Paul, who is not on a selfish journey. He goes to the Anyplace to find something to make his mother happy and hopefully restore his family, The kids in the original are rebelling against the very notion of growing up, whereas Paul desperately feels he needs to undertake responsibility so he can be the man of the house. Not only is he unafraid of growing up, but he embraces the responsibilities of parenthood.”

Though he went in an opposite direction from Pan for Paul’s characterization, David also drew many of the book’s characters from Barrie’s original work, including the mysterious white tiger who appears in Paul’s dreams. “If you go back and you read the Barrie material, he does describe other residents of the island, and that includes tigers,” David says. “So you’d at least want something fairly distinctive, and a white tiger fills that role.

“Most of the characters who show up in Tigerheart are in the original Barrie version. Barrie makes reference to an old woman with a hooked nose, who develops into Mary Slash…Slash fiction, I suppose."

David is a lifelong Peter Pan fan ever since seeing Mary Martin in the stage version as a child. “I always remember that moment when the windows blow open and Peter Pan soars through the window,” David says. “I think it is the single best entrance in the history of musical theater. That just blew me away! And because I saw that as a child, I had no idea that I was watching an adult woman! I thought I was looking at a teenage boy.

“I was just enchanted by the notion of ‘think happy thoughts, and up you go.’ You bet I was bouncing around on my bed trying to think happy thoughts, so I could fly. Didn’t have much success.”

As he grew older, David toyed with the idea of doing his own Pan story. “I’d always had the idea for a sequel kicking around in my head,” David says. “Then Hook came out, and I thought, ‘Gee, I can write a better sequel than that…’ It had a lot going for it –but in the end, it’s what if Peter Pan grew up…he’s not Peter Pan any more. The End.

“When I read that Peter Pan was falling into the public domain, I thought, ‘Now would be the time to really explore the possibility of doing my own spin on the world of Peter Pan and the works of James Barrie. Furthermore, I knew other people had done sequel, but my problem with them was that none seemed to make an effort to be written in the style of Barrie.

"And one of the things that I felt made Peter Pan work so well was the style in which Barrie wrote it. It was very much a sort of dream-like approach, which made sense because the Neverland was a sort of dream state. So having that surreal aspect to it was a really appropriate way to portray the material, and no one else in the Barrie sequels I read was even attempting that – perhaps with good reason, who knows?

“But I was just ambitious enough, or pretentious enough, to believe that Barrie got it right, and I could try to write a Peter Pan book in the style of the original Peter Pan. Whether I succeeded or not was up for readers to decide, and for the most part, they seem to feel I did so.”

While Tigerheart closely follows J.M. Barrie’s prose style, it also takes a critical look at Peter Pan/The Boy and his refusal to grow up. David says that this also comes from the original book. “Barrie doesn’t approve of Peter Pan himself, right down to the final line of the original book where he calls children ‘heartless,’” David says. “With the final line of the original, he condemns childhood! I don’t think children are heartless! Their priorities are in a different place than adults’, but I don’t think Barrie was dealing with Freudian concepts when he was writing the book.”

Does David ultimately come down on the side of Paul, who wants to grow up, or The Boy, who doesn’t? “I don’t think there’s any absolutes,” David says. “It really depends on the individual. There are some people who are born old, and some who never grow up. I don’t think I’ve ever grown up…I write comic books, I collect toys, what do you think?”

Tigerheart also deals with the idea of the death of childhood, and the painful transition to becoming an adult. David says that he doesn’t know if childhood really dies, but “the moment when you first become aware of your own mortality is certainly memorable.” For him, this moment came in the sixth grade, when he arrived at a grocery store to discover a friend of had been killed while arriving there. “Apparently, he’d been crossing the street and was hit by a car, and was thrown under another car,” David says. “I’d never seen a dead person. I didn’t know for sure that was what I was looking at. God knows I’d never seen anyone my own age dead.

“And certainly something died within me that day. I won’t say my childhood died that day, but the idea of mortality, of the potential of childhood’s end, was realized. Everyone has their own version of that story, but that’s what alluded to in the book.”

The longtime appeal of Peter Pan’s story comes from a “commonality of experience,” according to David. “Everyone has a point in their life where they go, ‘I don’t want to grow up, I want to stay young,’” David says. “That concept of ‘all children grow up except one’ seizes your imagination. Anything that speaks to everybody equally is going to have the kind of across-the-board resonance required of a classic, more so than most things that are also considered to be classics, and also has the quality that makes something classic for a new generation.”

Peter Pan has been a ubiquitous icon in popular culture for more than a century, inspiring films, video games and of course the popular brand of peanut butter, which David notes once included “perhaps the worst name for a product in the history of the food service industry, ‘Peter Pan Whipped.’”

Given all that, has there been any interest in a film of Tigerheart? “Absolutely!...none,” says David. “It didn’t help that there was a live-action version of Peter Pan that came out a couple years ago that just tanked. The reaction in Hollywood was, ‘We had an actual Peter Pan and it did badly, so why do a pastiche of Peter Pan?’ Also, several fantasy films that have come out recently have not done well – The Golden Compass, the second Narnia film – so pitching a fantasy film right now is problematic. But if there’s a successful film in the future, things could turn around.”

We checked to see what David’s favorite interpretations of Pan were in film. He has some affection for Disney’s 1953 cartoon version of Pan: “They broke with tradition and had a male be the voice of Peter Pan, and there were a lot of aspects that were Disneyfied – the crocodile was a bit too cuddly for me – but it was an excellent introduction for a lot of kids to the world of Peter Pan,” David says.

“People (complain) a lot about Disney shaving the edges off these stories, but when you think of all the books they kept in the public eye long after they might well have been forgotten. If you don’t believe me, name a book by Felix other than Bambi! Name a book by Carlo Collodi other than Pinocchio! And if you didn’t like the Disney sequel to 101 Dalmatians, go read the author’s sequel, The Starlight Barking, which literally fell into the ‘what the hell was she thinking?!’ category. At least Disney helps keep the original books alive.”

So what is David’s favorite interpretation of Peter Pan? That would be the stage version with longtime portrayer Cathy Rigby. “Between Rigby’s incredible physicality and athleticism, along with the British accent she affected, I think it’s the definitive portrayal of the characters,” David says. “Go down to your local Borders while it’s still there and pick up Tigerheart, then pick up the Rigby version on DVD. It’s difficult for me to say this as a fan of the Mary Martin version, but the Rigby version is absolutely superior in every way.”

Tigerheart is available in paperback now, so listen to PAD and get it and the Cathy Rigby version of Peter Pan while you’re out.

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