Peter David | Tigerheart (Del Rey)

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tigerheart.jpgLike all good fantasy tales, Tigerheart offers both an absorbing story and a philosophical commentary on life.




304 pages; $22.00


Peter David must be one brave man, because his new fantasy novel, Tigerheart, is partly a reinterpretation of one of the most popular children's stories of all time: J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Between the original books, the stage versions, and the various films and cartoons drawing on Barrie's characters, the story of the boy who refused to grow up has become a familiar part of our cultural heritage.

Given these expectations, David (a veteran writer of everything from Star Trek novels to Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk comics) wisely chose to embrace the spirit and style of Barrie's stories while placing the specific Peter Pan elements slightly to one side of his main narrative, which concerns the journey towards maturity of a young English boy named Paul Dear.

Paul is living a happy existence in London when Tigerheart opens: he has a comfortable home with two loving parents, and his father feeds his imagination with tales of magical lands and creatures. The imaginative Paul takes the stories to heart, and discovers he is able to communicate with pixies and sprites and the animals of Kensington Gardens. Paul also converses with The Boy, who resembles Paul but also shares many traits with Peter Pan, through his bedroom mirror.

Tragedy intrudes when Paul's baby sister dies in infancy. His mother withdraws from the world in grief, creating a rift between his parents as well as the abrupt demand that Paul must put aside childish things, which in this case includes using his imagination. Tigerheart is set in the contemporary world, so Paul's parents take him to a doctor who prescribes drugs meant to banish his fantasies and foolish ways. Being a wise child who recognizes that adults don't always know best, he pretends to take his medication but spits it out as soon as his mother's back is turned.

Desperate to help his mother, Paul flies to Anyplace, which has much in common with Neverland. It's home to The Boy and The Vagabonds, as well as the Picca Indians, a crew of pirates with names like the Terrible Turk and Fearless Earless, and the pirate captain Hack and his even fiercer sister Mary Slash. And that's not even going into the Hungarian acrobats and the Bishop of the Gnomes—but time is short so I'll just say that Anyplace is like Neverland but a bit fiercer and more real, without the sugar-coating familiar in particular from the musical versions of Peter Pan.

Like all good fantasy tales, Tigerheart offers both an absorbing story and a philosophical commentary on life. Paul has his share of adventures in Anyplace (with all those Indians and pirates about, how could he not?), but his greatest discoveries are recognizing his true self and how much he differs from The Boy. Paul wants to grow up, and he wants to help his family, but he doesn't think that becoming a responsible adult should require sacrificing enjoyment or imagination. The Boy, on the other hand, is a distinctively darker version of Peter Pan who wishes to remain a self-centered child, completely lacking in perspective or empathy.

David regularly shifts his authorial voice between conventional narration and direct address to the audience. My favorite parts are the latter sections, when he waxes amusingly philosophical on everything from the origins of those chicken-crossing-the-road jokes to the meaning of common sense. Although there are plenty of familiar elements in Tigerheart, there are lots of surprises as well, and the story ends with an unexpected twist that brings together the narrative and philosophical elements very nicely. | Sarah Boslaugh




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