A week ago I went to the theaters to see the new Pan movie with a tinge of excitement and a bucket-load of wariness. On the one hand, COOL PETER PAN THINGS; on the other hand, Peter Pan movie that looks nothing like Peter Pan.
You see my problem here?
You should know, I’m a diehard Peter Pan fan. I loved Peter Pan before I even heard of Tolkien and Lord of the Rings and the like. Peter Pan was one of the first things to introduce me to fairies and fantasy lands. Neverland is like my childhood home. So I get rather grumpy when people go and change it.
Once I stepped out of the theater I spent the rest of the afternoon complaining to my family of all the many, many wrongs these people did to my beloved Peter Pan story. First of all, it didn’t feel like Neverland to me. I adore Neverland. Like I said, it’s practically my home. I knew the movie was going to veer from the original story, but I was still looking forward to at least spending time in my dear Neverland. But it just didn’t feel like that enchanted world that has captivated my imagination since a child. Then of course Peter’s backstory was so very wrong. And don’t even get my started on their interpretation of Tiger Lily, And then there’s. . .
Wait a minute, Christine, wait a minute! You LOVE retellings.
Oh. . .right.
That day the reasonable side of my brain made one of its rare appearances and shoved away the grumpy side. I do love retellings. Retellings are one of my top favorite types of stories. So why did this movie so upset me? I had to think about that one for a bit.
Finally, after much thought, I realized it’s because of how they advertised it.
“Experience the Untold Story of the Timeless Legend.”
That’s it. That’s how they’re pitching it to us. Um, excuse me? Untold story? Untold story???
*whips out copy of Peter Pan and flips through pages* Here we go, and I quote:
“Wendy, I ran away the day I was born. It was because I heard father and mother," he explained in a low voice," talking about what I was to be when I become a man." He was extraordinarily agitated now. "I don't ever want to be a man," he said with passion. "I want always to be a little boy and to have fun. So I ran away to Kensington Gardens and lived a long time among the fairies.”
And a page later we get an explanation of the Lost Boys.
“But where do you live mostly now?”
”With the lost boys.”
”Who are they?”
”They are the children who fall out of their perambulators when the nurse is looking the other way. If they are not claimed in seven days they are sent faraway to the Neverland to defray expenses. I’m captain.”
And that’s what so bothered me with this movie and so many others. It’s like these people are trying to make their version the “real” one and convince us this is what really happened. There’s a lack of respect to the original author. Because of this I can’t help but get critical when it comes to movie adaptions. (It’s only taken me my whole life to grasp this. Better late than never?)
But I didn’t actually mean for this post to just be a review/bashing of the Pan movie (even though it’s turning out that way. . .whoops).
What I’m trying to get at is I do love retellings. And that’s just it. Retellings. As in a story that was inspired by another story and retold. Not claiming to be the “real thing”. Merely inspired by it and recreated for fun.
If Pan had been pitched to me as a retelling, I wouldn’t be nearly as critical of it. Instead of “the untold story” how about “an all new telling”? That way I can see it for what it is: Fanfiction. But I feel like these movie makers were trying so hard to tell me this is exactly how Peter Pan came to Neverland and this is what the characters are like, as if J.M. Barrie didn’t give us this information.
Same thing with the The Hobbit movies. I love those movies, but, again, they weren’t supposed to be fanfiction or retellings. They were trying to be the real story, and I can’t help but feel as if the producers are attempting to convince the audience that so many of these events are canon. (“Canon” is a geeky word for “true to the real story” for any who might not be familiar with the use of that word. I’ll be using it a lot.) So many movies have this problem.
But then you have something such as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I am completely in love with that movie and basically have zero complaints. Wonderland is as dear to me as Neverland. Yet just as Pan, it was presented to us as a connection to the actual book. So why was I perfectly fine with it? Because they respected the original tale. This movie did not try to convince me “these events we just made up” happened instead of what I read in the real book. It acknowledged Lewis Carroll’s wonderful story and respected it. Not changed it and tried to “improve” it.
Peter Jackson added all manner of drama and romance and total remakes of characters in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, because apparently Tolkien’s original masterpieces weren’t interesting enough?
No. That’s just disrespectful. Tim Burton respected Lewis Carroll, stayed so true to his characters, and as a result gave us a very loveable and believable sequel to the original tale.
“So wait, you’re telling us people shouldn’t make retellings?” you’re probably asking by now. I know, I do get off on rabbit trails.
The answer is: I absolutely think people should make retellings. And now I’m probably confusing you. (I’m confusing myself, really. Like I said, it has taken me my whole life to grasp my opinion on this and it only came to light this week, so bear with me here. I’m sure I’ll get to the main point eventually. . .)
Retellings are fantastic. I mean, I just wrote a Beauty and the Beast retelling myself. Obviously I love them. In fact, I’ve very much thrown around the idea throughout the years of writing my own Peter Pan retelling. But I’ve never allowed myself to give into that desire too deeply because how could I do that when I bash others that do? When I so resent stories that aren’t true to my beloved Peter Pan? Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite if I turned around and made my own? This has honest to goodness been a war in my mind for years. And then, just the other day, it finally, finally hit me.
I resent these stories when they’re claiming to be canon to the original story.
But many, many people do not claim this. Many very openly acknowledge that they love the original story and are simply retelling it because of that love. No improving, no disrespect to the author. More as a tribute to the author’s beautiful work. And THAT’S when I love retellings.
If I ever write a Peter Pan retelling, I’d be very clear that I am in no way trying to make out my version of Neverland and the characters as the real things or trying to improve anything. Only that I love the story so much I can’t help but explore it in some form or fashion with my own writing. That it’s a retelling and nothing more.
Now, if it isn’t really a retelling but more a sequel or prequel or what-have-you to the real thing, that’s where I go back to the Alice in Wonderland movie example. In my opinion, Tim Burton stayed so true to Lewis Carroll’s world and characters it felt like a proper sequel.
Not too long ago I read Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean which is said to be the “official” sequel to Peter Pan. When I read that I got very defensive and wary of the whole thing. But within one chapter, all my fears dispersed. It was as if J.M. Barrie wrote it himself. The writing style, the characters, the world—it felt so perfectly Peter Pan-ish I couldn’t help but believe it really was a sequel. Geraldine McCaughrean respected J.M. Barrie, and that love and respect shone from the pages. I really don’t believe she was trying to improve his work, but instead provide us with yet more of his imaginative world and delightful characters.
So to sum up what I’m trying to say in this long, ranty post, if a story is a retelling, I’d very much appreciate it being openly acknowledged as such. If it’s trying to be canon, it’s my greatest wish that the creator respects the author’s work.
Yes, I love retellings. It never ceases to amaze me how a single story can be retold in so many, many different ways. It’s fascinating how our imaginations interpret things so very differently. I have tons of stories I want to make retellings for. Alice in Wonderland being number one on the list. (I’ve been scheming a Wonderland story for yeeeeears, so just know one day I’m going to burst over here flailing excitedly about a Wonderland retelling I’m writing. It’s gonna happen. *nods*)
I enjoy retellings not because I want to change these classics, but because I love them. So maybe we should clearly present fanfiction as fanfiction and canon as canon, eh, Hollywood? *poke, poke*
(And, just so you know, despite all appearances, I didn’t actually hate Pan. It was a pretty good fantasy movie, just not a good Peter Pan movie, in my humble opinion. If that makes sense. If you want a proper Peter Pan movie I say watch the 2003 version. To this day that’s still one of my most favorite movies. Buuut that may just be me.)
Okay, this big ol’ post is just MY thoughts and opinions. I am in no way trying to say this is how it should be and that’s final. This is just how I personally feel on the subject. So I MUST know what you think. Am I being too persnickety? (I usually am.) What do you think about retellings and sequels/prequels/etc. to classics and the like? I’m exceedingly curious on everyone’s opinions of this subject. So please oh please, debate away! (Oh, and has anyone seen Pan? What’d ya think?)