Sunday, August 24, 2014

Alias Hook: Well, I didn't hate it

Fairy Tale Cleverly Retold is one of my favorite book flavors. And my first cartoon crush, aside from Robin Hood the (literal) fox, was Captain Hook. I like a man who wears a jaunty hat and creatively compensates for a crippling disability. But most important, he and I agree on one crucial point:

Peter Pan is an asshole.

Because you drug them with pixie dust

So when I heard about this retelling of the classic tale from Hook’s perspective, openly casting Pan as the villainous boy-child I’ve always known him to be and giving Hook a scrappy 30-something love interest in Stella Parrish (he deserves love, dammit), I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough.

Unfortunately . . . it wasn’t all that good.

The explanations Lisa Jensen cooked up to make sense of a Neverland that can be a fantasy playground for children while simultaneously resembling the clock-like death arena from Catching Fire are well thought out and undeniably clever. And when she let herself get truly dark with her story, I was enthralled. “He finds them by their longing, stray boys for his tribe and girls to tell him stories.”

(I mean, they might. We don't know.)

But those few moments of delicious creepiness were couched in what often seemed like mediocre Pirates of the Caribbean fan fiction—with a voudon priestess on a Caribbean island and everything.

Jensen never seemed to find Captain Hook’s voice, and because of that, I could never see him as more than the sum of his parts. It was almost as if she were doing improv and someone in the audience shouted out, “You’re a Restoration-era pirate with a good English education and particular ideas about women. GO.”
You’d scarcely know her for a female, garbed in her plaid jacket, a glimpse of white shirttail peeking out over loose dark trousers. Her feet are scarcely clad in soft, useless satiny things that expose her toes and heels. And she is surely not Indian; her face and hands are pale, her hair brownish and dusty, not long and silky black, much less done up in pearls and powder, as was the fashion in my day. But I am scarcely reassured.

But speaking of those Indians, they're a high point in the book. Jensen succeeds where the Disney movie justand I think we can all agree on thiscompletely failed. The Indians in this Neverland are people. With lives. And motives. And a nuanced cultural context. Imagine that.

While we’re saying nice things about fair representation of minorities, I also want to mention that feminism is in full effect throughout. The female characters (human and nonhuman) exhibit wisdom and agency and authority, and are more often cast in the role of rescuer than rescued.

BUT there was this one weird Victorian-morality-play deal that put a patriarchal fly in the ointment.

**The mildest of spoilers lies here.**

There’s a rule in the Neverland that innocent blood can never be shed, because that would upset the balance and destroy the land and everyone who lives in it; so the people/creatures of Neverland are pretty concerned that Pan might try to kill Stella for the crime of being an adult lady—that is, until she does adult-lady things with Captain Hook. “She is innocent no more, not as she was when she first arrived. . . . There are many ways to lose one’s innocence.” And so, because she had sex in the Neverland, Pan is free to stab her in the face with no long-term consequences to anyone’s way of life EXCEPT STELLA’S BECAUSE SHE WOULD BE DEAD.

**That's a really mild spoiler up there, so you should probably just go ahead and read it. OK I’ll wait.**

So in the end, I won’t say this book is a waste of time. It has some great moments, and I’m not sorry I read it. I just feel it’s my duty to warn you that you’ll have to muddle through a fair amount of Deep Thoughts With Hook, and this is what they look like:
Stella is my guiding star. Her body is my altar, my refuge. Her love is my life, and by God I will deserve her, coaxing the most wonderful music out of her that I have ever played, until we lose ourselves at last in the riotous swell of this love we make together.
That's my best advice.