|Jan/Feb 2005 Book Reviews|
Laurie Fox. The Lost Girls.
Simon and Schuster. 2004.
Ages 14 and Up
The most overlooked portion of Peter Pan is the final pages, where Peter returns to London twenty years later and finds Wendy too old for Neverland. He takes her daughter Jane with him instead and then repeats the saga again later, returning for Jane's daughter Margaret. Author J.M. Barrie concludes with the sobering words, "And thus it shall go on," turning his fairy tale adventure into an ongoing attack on the Darling women, impacting each of them in the most dramatic of ways, but abandoning them all again and again.
I will admit I have always wondered why Barrie put that last bit in there, why he had to tell us that Peter would return only years and years later and Wendy would be reduced to sending her daughter in her place. It reminded me of what C.S. Lewis did to Susan after she grew up in the Narnia tales. Once the little girls are grown, the boys no longer seem to have a use for them, nor do the authors.
Laurie Fox was intrigued enough by the hint of Jane and Margaret at the end of the story to wade into Peter Pan lore and write her own book, The Lost Girls. I was excited to read this book because I have never been happy with the way Peter Pan ended. So Wendy goes to Neverland and has a grand adventure and then goes home. Cut to the next day and tell me what happens then. Tell me what it's like to wake up the morning after that.
I should have learned by now that some things are better left unsaid.
First, I admire Laurie Fox for going after this story. It has been sitting there for 100 years, begging to be explored, but Disney didn't even blink at it, and all too often it is left out completely from abridged editions. The story is about Peter and Wendy after all, just like the original title insisted, and Jane and Margaret are apparently best left to the imagination. Fox was intrigued by the consequences though, by what would happen not only to Wendy, but also to the Darling girls who followed her when they came home from Neverland and never saw Peter again. How would they live with themselves; what would become of them? In publicity material accompanying the book, Fox wrote, "Would they [the girls] pay a price for falling hard for a famously irresponsible (albeit charming) boy? Would their unparalleled creative experience in Neverland only set the stage for a heavy disappointment later on in life?" These are valid questions, questions that never come up when you consider Peter, still flying around Mermaid Lagoon, still collecting Lost Boys and hanging out with the "redskins." Peter was never one to worry about, but Wendy is a different matter, and Fox has wondered about her for quite some time.
As for The Lost Girls itself, well the idea is very impressive, but I'm not sure that the execution of it is quite, as my grandmother used to say, my cup of tea. Fox takes the Darling girls and moves them forward several generations, to the story of the second Wendy, great granddaughter of the original. Like her mother Margaret and grandmother Jane, this Wendy also had her fun in Neverland, although there are haunted memories suggesting Captain Hook and his pirates lived up to their darker reputations. (Fox never explains how Hook and crew came back from the dead, although perhaps they are just future incarnations of the original, much like the second Wendy.) The original Wendy is still alive, although committed to a home for the delusional elderly. Jane has been missing for decades, and Margaret makes a living writing self-help books, primarily about men who never grow up and the women who love them. The modern Wendy cannot leave the memories of Peter or Neverland behind; they obsess her. This obsession has nearly destroyed her marriage and is threatening the very sanity of her own daughter, who is awaiting her visit with the family legend.
The potential for greatness is all over this book, and Fox brushes up against it just often enough to make it clear that she was well on her way to something special. She lost me though with her constant dependence on the theme of immature maleness and with a ton of psychobabble that pretty much destroyed any chance I had of ever liking Margaret. The girls went to Neverland, they apparently all fell in love with Peter, they all came home and were abandoned by him, they spent their entire lives trying to get over him and yet still sent their own daughters off to have their own adventures. I particularly couldn't understand how Wendy "Jr." would send her daughter Berry off with Peter when she was still struggling with rape nightmares at the hands of Hook. Wouldn't you guard your daughter every night to make sure she didn't go to such a place? Wouldn't you make it your mission in life to save her? Not if you were part of the Darling legacy it seems, if you were one more willing captive to the story.
I was frustrated by the Darling women as presented in Fox's book, and very annoyed that this was the best that she could do, or that we would expect. Peter did not define Wendy; remember author J.M. Barrie liked the title Peter Pan and Wendy long before it was just Peter Pan. Wendy was critical to the plot then and deserving of much more respect now. Do we want to remember her as an eccentric, still dragging out stories from her childhood to entertain the great great grandchild, still trying and failing to fly in her nineties? Why didn't she become a great writer or painter or actress? Why didn't she become someone who took her adventurous past and changed the world with it? Why didn't she take to the streets of London and save those lost boys? Why did she have to become defined by the story and then let it define all the girls who followed her? Is this the Wendy who took off into the night on the chance that something great might happen?
No, and that's why this book disappointed me. This isn't what I hoped for Wendy and not at all what should have happened to Jane or Margaret. Neverland and Peter should just have been a part of their lives, the part that taught them not to be afraid, and that led to even more amazing things when they came home. Why did it have to be a tragedy, and just one more example of a bunch of women who couldn't get over a man? (Even worse in this case, a boy!) Laurie Fox has a unique vision of the Peter Pan story, and she took a big chance when she put that vision down on paper. For me it just didn't ring true. I think Wendy Darling deserved a bit more credit than Fox gave her, and definitely a bit more respect.