I recently read a novel by Jodi Lynn Anderson titled Tiger Lily, which as I’m sure you can guess revolves around one of the more understated characters of J.M. Barrie’s novel Peter Pan and Wendy. Much like Barrie’s story, Anderson’s is also narrated, although in this retelling it is not an omniscient unnamed voice but instead Tinker Bell herself. In many ways Tinker Bell is all knowing and removed from the main action of the story. Anderson has made her mute, and for the most part an unrecognized character that follows Peter and Tiger Lily around. In fact, Peter himself never acknowledges her presence, and for much of the time neither does Tiger Lily.
The novel revolves around Tiger Lily, her village, and her relationship with Peter Pan. Barrie’s novel is often critiqued (and likewise so is Disney’s movie) for the two-dimensional portrayal of the Piccaninny tribe. In this way I think Anderson pursued a wonderful opportunity; she chose to follow a path Barrie had not explored and added depth and background to the characters of Neverland.
There is a certain romantic quality of Peter Pan and his inability to remember much from one adventure to the next. His short-term memory fits well with the Darling children’s flight to Neverland and their time there. Nothing existed before their arrival and nothing after. But because Anderson’s novel centers on Tiger Lily, she gets to give us more background and depth to Neverland and its inhabitants. We are given information about Tiger Lily, her family, her customs, and how she meets and falls in love with Peter Pan. Also, this Neverland is connected to the outside world. The pirates who come to Neverland are actual Englishman coming to port on an island. There is a certain loss that takes place as Tiger Lily goes on, and it is the loss of innocence. Outsiders discover Neverland and there is the feeling that Neverland will never really be the same. Soon Neverland will become just another island under a crown, the mermaids will disappear with the rest of the fairies and magic, and the house under the ground will collapse without a sound. This feeling mirrors the loss of innocence and childhood that the Peter Pan stories so clearly represent.
I would absolutely recommend reading this book. Although at times the inevitability of what would be the ending was depressing, Anderson gave a heartbreakingly cruel and compassionate story that spoke to the world and children Barrie created in the original Peter Pan and Wendy. Anderson presented the sad realities of Neverland without the breaks of clever dialogue that Barrie gave his audience. Anderson did not attempt to make any character more likeable; instead she gave them to you as if to say, ‘Here they are, take them or leave them, they aren’t perfect.’ Although her writing style and the tone of narration was much different than Barrie’s, her message and her depictions of the characters were very familiar. However, there is one character that Anderson treats differently. There is a judgment aimed towards Wendy that Anderson does not use against her other characters. I think in many ways Anderson is mirroring many of our own reactions when reading Peter Pan and Wendy (STOP DARNING SOCKS! PICK UP A SWORD OR SOMETHING!). I found this particularly interesting, and very telling of the modern times that Anderson’s story has been written in. The author and her audience applaud Tiger Lily’s refusal to bend her will to societal restrictions and expectations and we turn up our noses at Wendy’s refusal to want anything more.
Overall, Tiger Lily did a wonderful job at adding to a story we already love without tarnishing it. The novel is geared toward young adults, but it does not by any means get caught up in romantic or love-triangle pit falls or traps. The writing is superb and it really makes you think about childhood, moving on, and growing up.