As fictional heroes go, they don’t come more iconic—mythic even—than Peter Pan. I grew up with the Disney movie, of course, but also the J.M. Barrie novel, Peter Pan and Wendy, my version illustrated by Anne Grahame Johnstone. That edition now sadly out of print, but the illustrations stuck with me, and I treasure that version of this story over all others. Johnstone’s striking image of Captain Hook shows him as an elegant man with a cruel face; Peter is an impish, elfin creature, complete with pointy ears and a bit of a malevolent cast to his face. To a woman like Johnstone, living in the early 20th century, I can only imagine an immortal boy who fights pirates and steals children would not be worthy of being called a hero.
Christina Henry must feel the same way. She captures the evil side of Peter beautifully in Lost Boy, purported to be the true, untold origin of Captain Hook. The result is a beach read for the grimdark set. It’s a fantastically dark fairy tale from Hook’s point-of-view, though he is only known as Jaime when this story begins. Jaime is the first lost boy, and Peter’s primary confidant. Over a few centuries, Peter periodically returns to the Other Place (our world) to steal more boys to add to his crew. They must have a taste for fighting and bloodsport and an affinity with weapons. They must be wild, and they must always want to have fun. One day, however, Peter brings back a boy too young and innocent for the kind of play he has in mind, and it changes the dynamic of the Lost Boys forever.
Peter’s island is a dangerous place. There are the pirates, of course, and a natural threat, a monster they call the Many-Eyed. Sometimes Peter sacrifices weak or dying children to these beasts; in exchange, they leave the rest of the boys alone. Jaime has always been the one to care for the boys. Peter brings them over for play, but as soon as they aren’t fun anymore, he forgets them. Jaime takes them under his wing, cares for them when they are sick or injured, and keeps Peter’s bloodlust in check. When Peter brings back Charlie, just five years old, it is Jaime who helps him keep up when the rest of the boys are too fast and too cruel.
Unfortunately for Jaime, Peter’s jealousy knows no bounds, and he’ll stop at nothing to keep Jaime for himself—including turning one of the boys against him. Soon several disasters, and Peter’s impulsive decision-making, begin to decimate the Lost Boys, causing Jaime and some of the others to lose faith in Peter. And as Jaime begins to learn more of Peter’s secrets, he starts to question the true nature of his former friend.
In Alice and Red Queen, Christina Henry explored the grim side of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. Lest you think giving Peter Pan similar treatment smacks of gimmickry, never fear: this is an enormously satisfying retelling, with engaging writing and a pace that will keep the pages turning quickly. I particularly enjoyed speculating on Captain Hook’s backstory, and found Jaime to be a sympathetic hero in all of the right places. It’s a safe bet if you’re looking for a slightly chilling adventure for your next trip to the beach. But beware—for there be pirates!