Guest Post: Abi Elphinstone
The experience of reimagining a classic
I fell back in love with the story of Peter Pan when I re-read it as an adult: the intoxicating wonder of flying over the River Thames and discovering Neverland; the nail-biting peril of battling pirates and outwitting strange beasts; the wit and bravado of Peter Pan himself; the joy and ache of growing up. But much time has passed since the original Peter Pan was published and I knew that if I was going to attempt to write a modern sequel, I wanted to address the more complicated and problematic aspects of the book: namely the sexism and overt racism. So, my aim was to retain what is most precious about J.M. Barrie’s original but make it a more inclusive, compassionate story.
The first thing I did was to reinvent Neverland. I knew that if I transformed Mermaid Lagoon, the Home Under The Ground and the Neverwood into a land of ice-flumes, snow-capped peaks, icicled caves and frosty forests, a new adventure would begin to take shape… My Neverland is locked in the icy grip of a curse cast long ago by Captain Hook. Its rivers and waterfalls are frozen; its forests are full of frost; its mountains are covered in snow. Even the Neversea, an ocean made of the tears mothers shed when their children leave home, is sealed with ice, and the island’s magical creatures are vanishing. The marshchomps are no more and the gulperwhales are long gone. Now frostbears, snowtigers and icesharks patrol Neverland, draining it of magic as they await the return of the ghost of Captain Hook.
Even by Peter Pan’s standards, he’s got a lot on his plate. And I wanted to make sure that the help he enlists from the Mainland came in the form of two children from today’s world, both of whom have agency and appeal. Peter steals through the window of the Pennydrop’s house, where the Darling family used to live years ago. And there he meets ten-year-old Martha Pennydrop and her younger brother, Scruff. Peter whisks them off to Neverland and into the company of the Lost Kids and a woolly mammoth called Armageddon. And when Scruff is kidnapped, Martha – who had, at the start of the book, been desperate to grow up – realises she must rediscover all the imagination, magic and belief she has buried deep inside herself for so long, to save her brother and Neverland itself.
In regards to Peter Pan himself, I toyed with the idea of making him grow up. I thought about getting him to learn humility and self-control. I considered the idea that he might, finally, understand what it means to belong to a family. But he proved too stubborn. And part of his charm, and power, lies in the way he cannot, and will not, be changed.
All of us must grow up one day but Saving Neverland is a story that champions the art of growing down, too, of remembering to keep that bedroom window open so you can reach back through it into your childhood and see the whole world – with all its thrills, possibilities and wonder – at your feet.