In my first year of university, I did a module called Transformations in which we studied texts which had been written and rewritten over time – Noah’s flood and its many tellings were key stories we looked at, alongside Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, the movie of which traumatised me for the rest of university! Every since, I have had a real passion for writing which transforms popular stories. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked are some of my favourites, and there are many well written Alice in Wonderland spin offs. This fascination doesn’t rely just on books, but movie transformations as well, as I love seeing how other people view the worlds I have come to love so much. I wish that my Transformations module had developed a broader streak, as studying retellings of popular fiction would have been fascinating. With that introduction, it’s no surprise really that when my ever patient, ever loving boyfriend was buying his sister’s birthday present and I was perusing the ‘reduced’ shelves, that when I saw this particular novel for £0.99, he all of a sudden discovered his purchase was £0.99 more expensive that he had expected… boy I’m lucky that man loves me! It was nice to get around to reading it, and after the disappointment of The Stranger in my Home, it’s even nicer to have enjoyed it.
Before Wendy, there was Tiger Lily. And this time, the tagline holds true. I hadn’t expected the novel to be narrated by Tinker Bell, but it was actually a good narrative choice by Anderson, as she was able to use Tinker Bell’s fairy attributes to give the reader insight into more than simply Tiger Lily’s mind.
Of all the characters in Peter Pan, Tiger Lily is not one I have focussed on. In my third year at university I did a presentation entitled ‘Tinker Bell, friend or foe’ and an entire 70% of my mark for that module was based around Tinker Bell. But I’ve never given Tiger Lily more than a passing thought. So whilst it was nice to be in the comfort of a narrator I am familiar with, following the story of Tiger Lily really opened up the narrative.
I enjoyed Anderson’s development of the Sky Eaters – Tiger Lily’s tribe. The traditions and experiences of the natives of Neverland were well thought through. I enjoyed their perception of aging as a sickness. It normalised Peter Pan’s infinite childhood by giving it a logical explanation – in Neverland, at some point following a trauma or extreme experience, you cease to age. This can happen any time from teen to adulthood, although the presence of an ageless baby throughout the novel calls into question how early this can happen. So Peter Pan is not the only one who doesn’t age. In fact, it gave Hook much more of an interesting back story. He left England to come to Neverland and rid himself of the aging sickness, but instead he watched as Peter Pan and the Lost Boys stayed young whilst he, himself, aged. This could have been an interesting exploration in itself, but as the focus is on Tiger Lily, I shan’t digress too much here.
I also enjoyed the development of Smee, who often comes across as a clumsy and lovable character. In fact, Smee was far more a natural murderer than Hook was, as his desire to kill the stronger, more powerful creatures had less purpose that Hook’s sole desire to kill Peter Pan to rob him of what he had that Hook wanted for himself. That was another interesting twist which just added more layers to the over arching narrative, making Anderson’s exploration of Neverland more interesting throughout.
There is a lot we don’t learn about Tiger Lily – where she came from, was she cursed, did she have a special relationship with the gods? Anderson did a good job of giving logical explanations for the actions which made her such an outcast as the novel progressed, but the unanswered questions remain even after the conclusion.
Anderson’s portrayal of Tiger Lily as ‘girl-like’, having been raised by a Shaman who was more feminine than masculine, highlighted the lack of importance the Sky Eaters gave to specific gender roles. The presence of an Englishman among them stirs the already muddied waters, and creates an extra tension with a much deeper meaning as the main story progresses. Tiger Lily, despite being accepted as boyish and a free spirit, is bound by her father’s promise that she will marry Giant. His convenient death, 2 weeks into their marriage, potentially by a girl he forced himself on time and again, both undermined Tiger Lily’s independence and emphasised her spirit. Tiger Lily married him unwillingly, but she was loyal and strong enough to stick to her father’s promise. Some parts of the relationships were difficult to read, but overall Tiger Lily maintains her independence, and her eventual marriage to Pine Sap highlights the lack of importance in traditional gender roles.
Tiger Lily and Peter
Of course, you’re all dying to know where Peter features in this… and I’m still a little confused myself! He does, of course, play a key role, as he is Tiger Lily’s first love. The others on the island, even the Sky Eaters, view him as a danger and avoid the parts of the forest he is known to inhabit. The pirates seek him out to mete out Hook’s confused justice. But actually, to me Peter came across as a much more non-character. He was sixteen and gangly, he was confused and mixed up and he went from mermaid to Tiger Lily to Wendy with barely a thought. His confused love for the lost boys was painful to watch – he wanted to keep them safe but didn’t know how, and actually there was no indication of happiness with their lot, but rather a constant, underlying melancholy. Anderson did an excellent job of using the sense of smell in her writing to conjure a dormitory-like feel in their living conditions which was easy to imagine and appreciate.
Peter and Tiger Lily spend confused time together, both loving and hating each other, being competitive and reliant. I think what frustrates me is that whilst Peter fills the role of a teenage boy with a not-girlfriend (think Sheldon’s ‘She’s a girl, and she’s my friend, but she’s not my girlfriend’) who eventually admits love, Tiger Lily is more a passive observer in the relationship, with no way to express her emotions in either direction. She does not have much say in what direction Peter dictates their relationship will develop, and she has no say whatsoever in the end of it. Perhaps this is a normal teenage relationship, but I did not enjoy her passive nature as it was at odds with the character that Anderson had worked so hard to develop.
As always, Tinker Bell loves Peter, but in this context she is happy, kind of, to watch the love develop between Tiger Lily and Peter because she knows that a life with him for herself is not practical. This made her hatred and attacks of Wendy much more realistic and understandable, whilst also creating levels of pity for Tinker Bell often missing in modern interpretations of Peter Pan.
Overall, this was a love story, as was promised. But it was more childish than I had hoped. Anderson does a good job overall, but her writing lacks intricacy and subtext. This is more a book for teenagers, but I don’t know many teenagers who will admit they still like Peter Pan enough to read an off shoot of it. Confused about its genre and age bracket, Anderson still does a good job of telling an unknown tale, and I enjoyed the story and the creative licence taken with JM Barrie’s world.