Peter Pan has always been the hero, Captain Hook the villain. Pielmeier turns J. M. Barrie’s story on its head through his “discovery” of James Cook’s (aka Hook’s) memoir, detailing the true nature of his relationship with the boy who never grew old. A fatherless child with a complicated family history, Cook is a failure at Eton and then pressed into the Royal Navy at 14. Saved from death by Peter’s whim, Cook spends time playing with the boy on the “Never-Isle” before tragedy tears them apart, sending Cook back to England and “real” life… at least for a time.
This is a quick and enjoyable read—an adventurous, creative tale, with Hook’s backstory transforming him from cartoon villain into a conscience-laden individual whose human foibles result in some awful consequences, inadvertent and otherwise. There is a mishmash of borrowed elements here, from Treasure Island to Jack the Ripper, treated lightly, for fun. The characterization is also fun, favorites Smee and Daisy the crocodile (who has a very different relationship with Cook than that of the original story) joining newcomers such as the aptly named Dr. Slinque. The novel has a magical realist feel, everything grounded firmly in probability until voila!—Time no longer behaves properly, mermaids abound, and boys fly with the help of fairy dust. The characterization of Peter is particularly inventive; he personifies Barrie’s description of children as “gay and innocent and heartless,” emphasis on the heartless. As Peter himself says of love, “I don’t really know what that word means.” Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is the choice with which Cook is faced: eternal youth, adventure, carelessness… but stagnation—or “to grow old, and to change, and to suffer loss, and to learn new things, and to be human.” Which would you choose?