Welcome back to Neverland. For those who loved the stories of the boy who wouldn’t grow up, Andrea Jones’s novel Hook & Jill will absolutely delight. All of Sir James Barrie’s characters appear, from Peter Pan and Tinkerbell to Mr. Smee and the ticking Croc. There are hideouts, Indians, bedtime stories, flying, and battles. And a good bit of passion, too.
Yes, Hook & Jill imagines what would happen if Wendy Darling decided that she wanted to grow up, that she wanted to be a woman. The novel begins with the Lost Boys and Wendy up to their usual tricks, but soon Jones spins off from Barrie’s original and launches into her own tale; Wendy, though still in love with Pan, begins to desire a more complex, meaningful, and rewarding life. Thus, she gravitates towards the pirates, and their infamous Captain Hook, Neverland’s best representation of adult maturity. From her tension and desire, a whole new story unfolds as Pan and Hook fight for their values and their version of Wendy. To say more would spoil the plot; rest assured that the twists, turns, and tension continue through to the very end.
Central to Jones’ tale is the concept of time, for, of course, Pan has said he will never grow up. But right from the start, Wendy notices that even in Neverland, “Time had clearly paid a visit … [her] gown was too short.” Unbeknownst to Peter, and surely without his permission, she and the Lost Boys have been growing. At first, she hides the growth from Peter, but he realizes what is occurring and tries to stop it, offering their “little teeth in the bowl on his altar,” hoping that the baby teeth will be a fitting “sacrifice to the Spirit of Time.” The more that time passes and she matures, the more Wendy begins to want to grow up, against the wishes of Pan.
Her dissatisfaction with her life of being the mother to the clan of boys, of always having to be the responsible one giving medicine and tidying up, makes Wendy feel as though she is “living in the woods just like Snow White…that princess looked after a pack of dwarves too.” Wendy’s resentment lets Jones create a feminist strain within the novel, as Wendy strikes out on her own to become a real woman, creating her own terms, not living according to Pan’s rules. Wendy does still love Peter, desires him even, but realizes that this desire will never be fulfilled. As she tries to kiss him, she learns that,
There was passion there. There was, and it moved her. But it moved her backward. It beat in a subtle tempo, like Time. It reminded Wendy of birth, of mortality, and of death. The smell of the cavern turned dank in her nostrils. She drew away. She knew now. She would move forward, or she would die.
Wendy learns, to her dismay and her delight, that Peter Pan is just a little boy and always will be. Her passion and desires lead her elsewhere.
One of the more clever aspects of Jones’ novel, in addition to the way in which she handles Time, is her casting Wendy in the role of story-teller. Barrie, in the original, had her telling stories to the boys before bed, and creating Peter Pan’s tale as well. Jones picks up this idea with alacrity, having Wendy actively engaged in telling her own narrative, becoming a creator of her own world. Gradually, she realizes the power inherent in this role: “She had only to connect the segments and speak the tale.” Other people, the people in Neverland, “might be real or…might be a story.” In a delightful stroke, Jones has given her heroine creative control, empowering her far beyond the original tale.
If, at times, Hook & Jill reads a bit too much like a romance novel, if the lovers’ flashing blue eyes meet and sparkle with delight with alarming frequency, this artistic weakness is to be forgiven in light of the excellent pacing and clear passion that is evoked. There are heaving bosoms and slicing rapiers aplenty, but also wonderful lyricism to Jones’ prose. For those who wish to reengage with a childhood favorite with a mature mindset, Hook & Jill provides a colorful, rich, and enjoyable story.