“What if Wendy went to Never Land with Captain Hook?”
Liz Braswell is back and better than ever with her latest twisted tale based on the story of Peter Pan. As with all the twisted tales though, nothing is as it seems.
Any regular reader will know Liz Braswell is a favourite of mine for bringing the darkness to our favourite fairy tales and Straight on Till Morning is no exception. Gone are the sickeningly sweet nursery scenes and Nana in a nursemaid’s hat. Braswell wastes no time in managing our expectations: letting us know that this will not be a romantic tale of stars and pixie dust. Even London’s sky is “choked” by the clouds rather than blanketed by them
It has been 4 years since Nana tore Peter Pan’ shadow from his body and Wendy is frustrated and disappointed that Peter has never come to reclaim it. She seems to have taken this very personally: equating his abandonment of his shadow as an abandonment of her, but still keeping the shadow safe, should he change his mind. I immediately thought of this as the Disney equivalent of a girl dropping a handkerchief in the hope that a boy would pick it up and they would fall in love (I watch a lot of Pride & Prejudice!)
The first impression I gleamed from the tagline of this novel was that it would be a retelling of the original story, only if Captain Hook had befriended the Darling siblings first: something along the lines of Michael in a bandana and Wendy hating Peter Pan rather than fawning after him. However, by making the family older we see Wendy at 16: on the verge of becoming a young woman, staying home and ensuring supper is on the table whilst her brothers are educated and thus experiencing the gender stereotypes of her time.
Yes, some could say the original Wendy already experienced gender stereotypes in the original story with the whole “squab collect firewood” episode but Braswell brings the discrimination into the real world, this is Edwardian London: the subject of history books, not fairy tales and so cannot be brushed off so easily.
Perhaps this is why Wendy writes herself as the hero in her own stories whereas others such as Captain Hook merely judge her as a bystander or as a “mother figure”: her stories allow her to be someone she could never be in real life- or could she? It doesn’t take long for Wendy to realise that, in Neverland and in life, she must be her own hero. However, Wendy soon realises that being a hero is not the glamourous existence she imagined: quite the opposite as she muses “being a hero is just work…boring work…endless work…and nothing more.”
Wendy does not embark upon her adventure alone though. Braswell reignites our love and visions of Neverland by reuniting us with Hook, his crew, the lost boys, the mermaids and of course our favourite inappropriately dressed fairy: Tinkerbell.
Tinkerbell is easily the best supporting actress in this twisted tale. In my opinion no Peter Pan tale has ever given the pixie as much depth as Braswell does in this novel. Her mood swings are iconic and her frustration at Wendy… well it’s relatable let’s put it that way! But by exploring Tink’s relationship with other fairies and by causing Wendy to make sacrifices to save her newfound friend, Braswell causes us to reconsider Tinkerbell. Maybe there is more to her than pretty pixie dust after all!
I really appreciated how this was Wendy and Tink’s story. Michael, John and even Peter did not feature heavily and it gave the reader a real opportunity to see a friendship blossom between the young woman and the fairy. Wendy’s age meant that she was able to address the romantic tension between Tink and Peter and air the jealousy that had impacted Tinkerbell’s previous perceptions of “ugly Wendy”. My notebook always contains hundreds of thoughts when I read a book but when Wendy suggests everyone fawns over Peter when he doesn’t really deserve it, I wrote FINALLY!
Straight on Till Morning defies all expectations of Peter Pan, pirates and swordfights: yes the story includes these, of course it does. However, with Peter taking a backseat Braswell is free to explore modern issues within Neverland such as feminism and societal difficulties. She does so cleverly: through characters such as Skipper and by using several amazing twists towards the end of the book. (I must admit, I saw the Smee twist coming…but not the Wendy one and I LOVED it.)
Dare I say it could even be a gateway into a Mary Poppins twisted tale?