This authorised sequel to Barrie’s own work, written to raise funds for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, marks the ten thousandth page of this lunacy of mine. Three cheers (or a cock-a-doodle-doo, I suppose) for base-ten milestones. (I hate myself a little bit for that.)
Honestly, I love this book. I’ve maintained on several occasions that a lot of the objections that you typically see made about Peter Pan come from not fully appreciating what it’s trying to do. Neverland is children’s stories, and children’s games, made incarnate. So there is danger, and there are Red Indians, and when you’re happy you can fly, and, most importantly, it is impossible even to conceive of actually growing up. If you’ve read Tom Sawyer, you’ll recognise the sort of childish imagination I mean. In passing, I might add that I’ve had it postulated to me that Peter Pan, or Neverland if you prefer (it doesn’t make sense to separate the two), is the incarnation of boys’ stories. Maybe so. I never was a girl. But from my recollection and observation, I’d be loath to say that little girls only like pretty dresses and making tea and not climbing trees and fighting pirates. Childhood is universal.
God, I’ve read a lot about childhood recently, haven’t I? Just wait until I get on to writing up Hard Times.
Anyway, Peter Pan in Scarlet really gets that idea, of Neverland being essentially immutable, essentially story, and it plays with it in really interesting ways. Time happens where it never should have done. Something is rotten at the heart of the story – just what, we don’t know. The matter is left open between two choices, the later-introduced of which says something which recalls those haunting lines of Larkin’s, “Never such innocence, never before or since.”
A child could have a much worse introduction to metafiction than this. That’s all I’ll say.
Continuing with our metafictional theme, we move on to Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. Quite frankly, this book has to be read to be believed. I bought it a couple of years ago on a recommendation, and it has unfortunately languished on a bookshelf – the sort of book of which you think, “I really must read that at some point” whenever the time comes to reassess shelving arrangements, but never manage to. Well, I finally Did It Now.
Thursday Next inhabits an entirely recognisable, utterly alien England. Hers is a sceptred isle suffused with literature, bursting at the seams with it, like a saturated sponge whose contents well up out at the least pressure of a finger. (You have no idea how many attempts I made at that last metaphor before coming up with one that both got the central idea across and didn’t sound disgusting. All words at all like “ooze” had to be well out.)
Anyway. It’s no secret how much I adore books about books – see what feels like every other post on this blog – and this is a real corker. The prose, especially the direct speech, is sometimes artificial, but that can easily be forgiven in a first novel such as this. Reading about it has also led me to the information that Fforde won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for one of the sequels, a competition for comic fiction whose winner receives a jeroboam of champagne and 52 PG Wodehouse books. Frankly, this seems like the best prize possible for almost any competition.
I will move on without further discussion, since I don’t think I could do this justice, but I will pause to praise the little epigraphs (drawn from fictional books, which are a fascinating notion in their own right and have their own Wikipedia list) at the start of each chapter. I particularly want to note the one at the start of Chapter 10, which discusses the problem of people changing their names to that of their favourite poet. After some brief discussion, we are treated to this gem: “Following an incident in a pub where the assailant, victim, witness, landlord, arresting officer and judge had all been called Alfred Tennyson, a law had been passed compelling each namesake to carry a registration number tattooed behind the ear.”
And with that, I move on.
Nothing much to say about Heidi Grows Up. It’s a surprisingly sweet and enjoyable story. Another authorised sequel – why we own them I’ve no idea. Compare Heidi’s time at boarding school to Second Form at St Clare’s, and her time teaching in the village school to To Sir, With Love. There are similarities but, of course, marked differences too.
I don’t know why I can’t think of much to say about it. Ah well. On to the next thing.
More Blyton! Away from school stories, though; this is the sort of adventurous romp the Famous Five (to whom I might well return at some point; I had an absolutely smashing time rereading a bit of that last Easter) might have had. This story, however, has different principals – Roger, his sister Diana, their cousin Snubby and his dog Looney, and the ex-circus-boy Barney and his monkey Miranda (named for the heroine of The Tempest, because Barney adds to his wildness a burning desire for book learning and a love for Shakespeare because he’s heard that his father was a Shakespearean actor).
It’s much like what you’d expect from this sort of Blyton story. There’s a big, deserted house to reward exploration, suspicious (in both senses of the term) older folk, a monkey, danger, a monkey, noises in the night, a monkey, boring holiday-time tutoring, a monkey – you start to see the picture?
It’s fun. I greatly enjoyed it. There are further mysteries starring the same cast, and if I get the chance I think I’ll definitely be seeking them out.
Peter Pan in Scarlet
Author Geraldine McCaughrean
Best character Ravello, because I never said that you had to trust the best character. Ravello is the most interesting.
The Eyre Affair
Author Jasper Fforde
Best character Jane Eyre, because (as the main character of Jane Eyre) this is probably be her only chance to feature, even if I do manage to get round to that masterpiece.
Heidi Grows Up
Author Charles Tritten
Best character Jamy, the slightly nervy friend Heidi makes away at school. Not really sure why. I just found her amusing (and I can so easily find characters of her sort irritating).
The Rockingdown Mystery
Author Enid Blyton
Best character Barney. I know it’s tenuous, but I’m going to dub Roger and Diana the main characters to make Barney eligible. He’s just so great – by which I mean basically everything I wanted to be as a child.