Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

“To have faith is to have wings.”

J.M. Barrie

Yep, we’re still in Peter Pan-land, Constant Reader. Today’s fare is another one of the numerous versions of the Peter Pan tales which Barrie wrote: Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, a novel originally published as part of another novel, The Little White Bird. It’s a story much more whimsical, and in some ways much more conventional, than the Peter Pan we all know and love.

In fact, the Peter Pan of Kensington Gardens is virtually unrecognisable as the wild, untameable boy of the play. The premise of the novel is that all babies used to be birds, and sometimes, remembering the time when they flew free in the skies, those babies fly away. Peter is one such escapee; he finds his way to an island in Kensington Gardens, and lives there, amongst the birds and the fairies, having occasional adventures, and even going home.

It’s actually quite twee. Think Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies crossed with Brambly Hedge and you’ve got it. And twee can, of course, be charming once in a while, as it is here. The fairies aren’t necessarily benevolent creatures, but neither are they particularly dangerous; they’re simply self-obsessed. But their society is nicely worked out (they hide during the day, when visitors abound in the Gardens), and Peter’s interactions with them feel authentic, in so much as a story about flower fairies and bird-babies can ever be authentic.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is…charming. It’s sweet, and readable, and pretty. But at no point does it reach the high strangeness, the wild magic of Peter Pan. Even Barrie’s prose style is less interesting: instead of that lyrical emotional detail we get in the stage directions to Peter Pan (even in the stage directions!), we’re given the written equivalent of the Special Voice people use when talking to children:

The Gardens are a tremendous big place, with millions and hundreds of trees.

Obviously, this has a lower target age than Peter Pan. But that doesn’t change the fact that Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is an essentially conventional book whose charm is little more than superficial.

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