https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/630 ... hild-thief
Not bad. Rad with interest. Unexpected ending.
Author’s Note or An Ode to Peter Pan
Like so many before me, I am fascinated by the tale of Peter Pan, the romantic idea of an endless childhood amongst the magical playground of Neverland. But, like so many, my mind’s image of Peter Pan had always been that of an endearing, puckish prankster, the undue influence of too many Disney films and peanut-butter commercials.
That is, until I read the original Peter Pan, not the watered-down version you’ll find in the children’s bookshops these days, but James Barrie’s original—and politically uncorrected—version, and then I began to see the dark undertones and to appreciate just what a wonderfully bloodthirsty, dangerous, and at times cruel character Peter Pan truly is.
Foremost, the idea of an immortal boy hanging about nursery windows and seducing children away from their families for the sake of his ego and to fight his enemies is at the very least disturbing. Though this is fairly understandable when you read in “The Little White Bird” (Peter Pan’s first appearance) that as an infant he left his own nursery to play with the fairies in the park, but upon his return found the windows barred and his mother nursing another little boy—just the sort of traumatic event to leave anyone a bit maladjusted. Rejected, Peter returned to the fairy world and apparently decided things would be a bit more fun if he had a few companions. And, not being one to worry on niceties, he simply kidnapped them.
But what happens to these children after that? Here is a quote from the original Peter Pan: “The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.”
Thins them out? Huh? What does that mean? Does Peter kill them, like culling a herd? Does he send them away somewhere? If so, where? Or does Peter just put them in such peril that the crop is in need of constant replenishing?
That one paragraph forever changed my perception of Peter Pan from that of a high-spirited rascal to something far more sinister. “Thins them out”—the words kept repeating in my head. How many children had Peter stolen, how many had died, how many had been thinned out? Peter himself said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”
There is certainly no lack of bloodletting in Peter Pan: pirates massacring Indians and so forth, but those are adults killing each other—nothing new there. Much more intriguing to me is that murderous group of children—the Lost Boys. With them, Peter Pan has turned bloodletting into a sport, has taught them not only to kill without conscience or remorse but also to have a damn good time doing it. At one point the boys proudly debate the number of pirates they’d just slaughtered: “Was it fifteen or seventeen?” And how can any child not enjoy such lines as “They fell easy prey to the reeking swords of the boys.” Or “He lifted up one boy with his hook, and was using him as a buckler, when another, who had just passed his sword through Mullins, sprang into the fray.” Nothing like a good spilling of entrails to liven things up. And more chilling is Peter’s ability to do all these things—the kidnapping, the murder—all without a trace of conscience: “‘I forget them after I kill them,’ he (Peter) replied carelessly.”
Once I pondered these unsettling elements I began to wonder what this children’s book would be like if the veil of Barrie’s lyrical prose were peeled back, if the violence and savagery were presented in stark, grim reality. How would children really react to being kidnapped and thrust into such a situation? How hard would it be for them to fall under the spell of a charismatic sociopath, to shuck off the morality of civilization and become cold-blooded killers? Judging from what goes on in modern gang culture, and seeing how quick teens can be to define their own morals, to justify any action no matter how horrific, I believe it wouldn’t be that hard.
And these thoughts were the seeds for The Child Thief.
KNOWING THAT I didn’t want to simply retell Barrie’s Peter Pan, but instead create my own Peter, my own world, and the darker story behind the fairytales, I began to dig into the same Scottish fairy stories, myths, and legends that originally inspired James Barrie himself. And I was delighted to find a treasure trove of folktales from which to pull together the mythology for The Child Thief. Since these legends helped steer and form this novel, I thought some of you might find them interesting and have listed them below.
I found the details to these myths varied to some degree from source to source, from region to region, and I took liberal use of many of them for The Child Thief. But following here are the most common threads and elements I have drawn upon:
Avalon: Avalon, or “Ynys Afallach” in Welsh, is one of the Otherworld islands. It was originally ruled by Avallach with his daughter, Modron. It is where Caliburn (Excalibur) was forged and where King Arthur was taken by Morgan le Fay (Modron) to be healed of his wounds after the battle of Camlann. Like the name of Avalon (from afal, or “apple”), the apple is one of the most recognized symbols of Avalon, with counterparts in the Greek Hesperides, the Norse Apples of Youth, and the Judeo-Christian Fruit of the Tree of Life.
Avalon is closely associated with a similar Otherworld island, Tír na nÓg, called in English the Land of Eternal Youth or the Land of the Ever-Young, and thus I combined both mystical islands to some degree. Tír na nÓg is perhaps best known from the myth of Oisin, one of the few mortals who lived there, and Niamh of the Golden Hair. It was where the Tuatha Dé Danann, or Sidhe, settled when they left Ireland’s surface. Tír na nÓg was considered a place beyond the edges of the map, located far to the west. It could be reached by either an arduous voyage or an invitation from one of its fairy inhabitants. The isle is visited by various Irish heroes in the echtrae and immram tales popular during the Middle Ages. Tír na nÓg is a place where sickness and death do not exist. It is a place of eternal youth and beauty.
Avallach: Avallach (also Afallach and Avalloc) was the son of Nodens, God of Healing. He was one of the Celtic gods of the Underworld. He ruled Avalon where he lived with his daughter, Modron, and her sisters.
Modron: In Welsh mythology, Modron (divine mother) was a daughter of Avalloc, derived from the Gaulish goddess Matrona. She is regarded as the prototype of the Lady of the Lake, Morgan le Fay, from Arthurian legend. She was the mother of Mabon, who bears her name as “Mabon ap Modron” (Mabon, Son of Modron).
Mabon: In Welsh mythology, Mabon (divine son) was the son of Modron. He is synonymous with the ancient British god, Maponos, and probably equivalent to the Irish god, Aengus Mac Og. Mabon was stolen from his mother three days after his birth. He then lived in Annwn until he was rescued by Culhwch. Because of his time in Annwn, Mabon stayed a young adult forever.
The Horned One: The Horned One I based in part on The Great Horned God, a modern syncretic term used amongst Wiccan-influenced Neopagans, which unites numerous male nature gods out of such widely dispersed mythologies as the Celtic Cernunnos, Herne the Hunter (English legend), Pashupati in Hindu, and the Greek Pan. A number of figures from British folklore, though normally depicted without horns, are nonetheless considered related, namely Puck, Robin Goodfellow, and the Green Man. To the Christians the horned god is the devil.
The names Tanngnost (meaning “tooth-gnasher”) and his brother Tanngrisnir (meaning “tooth-grinder”) are the names of the two billy goats that pull Thor’s chariot.
Ginny Greenteeth (or Jenny Greenteeth) from English folklore is a river hag, similar to a Peg Powler; she would pull children or the elderly into the water and drown them. She was often described as green-skinned, with long hair and sharp teeth.
Famous in northern England, a Barghest is a form of black ghost dog or goblin dog.
A Hissi is a mischievous spirit or god from Finnish folklore.
In Irish and Scottish folklore the Sluagh were the spirits of the restless dead. Some consider them to carry with them the souls of innocent people that they have captured.
I’ve taken many liberties with the locations in and around New York, but there really is an old church topped with a white cross set amongst the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan. It is located just across the street from Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Standing within the arch of the steeple is an angelic statue of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, her arms open, welcoming home any wayward pilgrim.
Fairytales of old were cautionary tales full of ghastly endings, serving as hard lessons for young and old alike. I for one believe that all myths and legends are sparked by some real event, person, or…other. So, should you find yourself alone in a dark corner of Prospect Park—or any other wild and untamed place—and the fireflies suddenly seem emboldened, the air alive with a silvery mist, listen closely and you just might catch the distant echo of a boy’s laughter. And whatever you should decide to do then, just remember, you’ve been warned.
February 20, 2009
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