Author A.C. Wise sheds a light on the “inherent darkness” of Peter Pan, which she explores in her new historical fantasy, Wendy, Darling.
There were several aspects of the Peter Pan story I wanted to explore through Wendy, Darling. To my mind, there’s a lot of darkness inherent in the tale—the idea of a boy who refuses to grow up, who kidnaps children from their beds at night and who is able to become separated from his shadow. There’s a forced innocence to Peter, a determination not to see the more frightening and unpleasant aspects of reality (for instance, the stealing of children) by narrowly focusing on the bright world of make-believe, and never looking behind him at what kind of chaos his actions might cause.
“Once you’ve been to a world where animals talk or children can fly, how do you return to the mundane world, the day to day?”
I also wanted to look at how that worldview might play into various definitions of family, particularly motherhood. When Peter takes Wendy to Neverland as a child, he wants her to be a mother to him and the Lost Boys. By his definition, that means cooking, cleaning up after him, telling stories and sewing his shadow back on when he loses it. It’s yet another abdication of responsibility. Peter wants someone to do all the work, deal with all the consequences of his playing and running around and making a mess, so that his fun is never interrupted and he never has to pause or look back, knowing someone else will deal with it.
The inciting incident in Wendy, Darling is when Peter reappears in Wendy’s life when she is grown, with a child of her own, and takes her daughter, Jane, away to Neverland. I wanted to contrast the realities of motherhood as Wendy experiences it with Peter’s idealized version. In a similar way, I wanted to contrast Wendy’s process of building a family and a life for herself after Neverland with Peter’s attempts to create a family within Neverland by stealing children and forcing them into certain roles. Found and chosen family stories are of great interest to me, and here, Peter’s idea of found family is a dark inversion of Wendy’s healthier version.
Another aspect of the Peter Pan story I wanted to explore in Wendy, Darling is what happens after “the end.” With portal fantasy stories, I’ve always been interested in the lasting impact the journey to another world has on a character. Once you’ve been to a world where animals talk or children can fly, how do you return to the mundane world, the day to day? How does it change your relationships with the people around you who haven’t experienced that kind of magic? Several creators have done a wonderful job of tackling these questions in films, novels, short stories and games, and since many of those are stories I love, I wanted to try my hand at providing some possible answers as well.
Author photo by Steve Schultz.