‘Ancient magics combine with feral logic to culminate in Brom’s The Child Thief. A retelling of Peter Pan spanning America’s earliest, magically rich beginnings to today’s bare whispers of belief. Wickedly poetic, The Child Thief makes me want to believe’, writes author Kim Harrisson about this novel.
Indeed, The Child Thief is a haunting and eerie story, a twisted and dark version of tale of Peter Pan. It paints two very different but equally disturbing worlds: the dark reality of the misery and violence that abused or neglected children in ‘our world’ grow up in on one hand, and in the other – separated by a fatal mist – the faery world of Peter Pan, which is equally disturbing and uncanny. The world of the charismatic, yet violent and misleading Peter Pan is not the adventurous and exciting place we know from Disney and Co. It is a gruesome place full of dangers, where death is lingering in every corner and where the boys need to fight the “Flesh Eaters”, the army of Captain Hook. Magic may be alive in this world, but it is a dark, twisted magic and the inhabitants of this world are all haunted: the island, formerly an enchanted paradise, is now a ravished place in decline. Peter Pan builds an army of stolen and lost boys to save the island. The boys may be physically frozen in childhood, but faced with death and destruction, they have to mentally grow up to fight in a war that has been going on for centuries. And in midst of all this, there is the tragic figure of Peter Pan himself, an unwanted child, caught between the world of faerie and man, belonging neither to one, nor the other and willing to sacrifice his boys for a war meant to save the last, wild magic in a land of decline. But what of the dangers that loom in that land? What of the Flesh-Eaters themselves? Are Captain Hook and his army really the evil, immoral creatures that we believe them to be? Or are they too, trapped in a world they don’t belong in?
The Child Thief is a haunting, unnerving story that questions the traditional Manichaeism of faery tales and goes beyond the simplified perceptions and depictions of good and evil. It is an eerie and unsettling tale that stays with the reader for a long time and makes him rethink the implications of the traditional story of Peter Pan: Brom tries to morally explore and reveal the shortcomings of that story. Indeed he writes in his preface that he wanted to reveal the dark undertones of the original tale by James M. Barrie and go beyond the popular image of Peter Pan that is perpetuated by Disney and the media. As he writes, it is in reality the disturbing story 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’, children that he teaches to kill ‘without conscience and remorse’ who are ‘thinned out’ by Peter when they grow too old.
In this sense, The Child Thief is not only a gripping and uncanny horror story but it is also a tale that invites us to see beyond the simplistic idea of good and evil and to see the “fairy-tale” of Peter Pan in a new light.
Image Credit: bromart.com