Greetings, friends. In the interest of posting some actual content on this blog, I thought it might be fun to start going through the multitude of trans-related books I have in my possession and saying a thing or two about them. Most of the trans books I’ve read over the last year or so have been memoir, but today we’re going to be delving into one of the few fiction offerings I’ve sampled: a wild and wonderful trans reimagining of Peter Pan called Peter Darling.
This is it, friends. This is the book that legitimately made me root for Captain Hook and (adult) Peter Pan to get together. Like, romantically. As a couple. It is a mad, mad world, and I happily fell right into it.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Peter Darling, by author S.A. (Austin) Chant, is a trans reimagining of Peter Pan that grabbed me from the moment I read the summary. The premise is that Wendy Darling is actually a young trans man who escapes to Neverland as a child and is able to live out his fantasies as Peter Pan. At home, Peter’s male identity is violently refuted by family members and used as proof of mental instability, but in Neverland, he can live out adventurous fantasies and, most of all, exist in a body and personality that feels right to him. After many years living a dreary existence in the “real” world, Peter returns to Neverland to find that everything has changed, and he embarks on a fierce and misguided quest to bring back the status quo and recapture his lost childhood.
The most fascinating thing about this book is the artful characterization of Captain James Hook, and what we learn about both him and the true nature of Neverland. If you don’t wish to be mildly spoiled, you may wish to stop reading now, because I’m about to talk about some spoilery things.
One thing we learn over the course of Peter’s journey is that Neverland exists as a sort of haven for young people hoping to escape from something in the “real” world. Peter wishes to escape his life of being labeled as a girl, and James, we learn, is trying to escape the reality of being a gay man who lost the man he loved in the war. When James began his time in Neverland, he was the protagonist of the story – a daring pirate sailing the high seas and having good times with his fellow buccaneers. But when Peter arrived, James began to transform into what Peter needed him to be to complete his own fantasy world – a ruthless villain.
As Peter and James both come to recognize the true nature of Neverland, James begins to break free from his persona of Captain Hook and become the gentle, kind, and sad being he truly is – one who is determined to escape from Neverland before it pulls him back into playing a role in someone else’s fantasy. This then leaves Peter with a question: Will he stay in the emptiness of Neverland and risk losing himself one day, or will he join James and go back to a world that may never accept him?
Honestly, when I started this book and saw that it was heading in a Hook/Pan direction, I wasn’t totally on board, but it completely won me over with the characterizations and the fascinating, sometimes horrifying mythos of Neverland. The writing, too, is excellent, and Peter and James’ relationship evolution is a beautiful thing to watch. For those who are sensitive to violence, there are a few scenes that may trouble you (one in particular comes to mind for me), and there is sexual content, though it isn’t graphic. Readers should also be warned that scenes with Peter’s father may be triggering, though they are necessary to show the desperate need Peter feels to escape his old life and flee to Neverland.
In any case, I very much enjoyed this book, and it’s absolutely one I will be reading again. If you’re looking for a dark, interesting, queer trans take on Peter Pan, definitely consider giving this a read.
S.A. (Austin) Chant website: https://austinchant.com/
Peter Darling on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Peter-Darling-Austin-Chant-ebook/dp/B099M8V7SB/