Thursday, October 29, 2015

Shot from a canon

With another Peter Pan movie, of sorts, having hit the big screen and slid down it to die, I've been considering the idea of canon: events and characters in a story that should be immovable, not remastered to tell a tale that's possibly at odds with the original. And in a neat bit of timing, Chuck Wendig, who along with his other ventures writes in the Star Wars universe, has addressed this very issue.

Since The Stowaway takes place in an existing universe with many existing characters, of necessity I've given a great deal of thought to where canon should be adhered to, and where and when it can be broken. I tend to fall on the side of respecting it. (Past posts here at Hook's Waltz may tend to bear that out.) J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan has meant a great deal to me on a deep level, and many retellings strike me as a betrayal of the story's essence...which leads me to wonder if my own digressions from canon make me a hypocrite.

Thomas Kinkade's "Moonrise Over Pirate Cove," created for
Disneyland's 50th anniversary. Beautiful ship!
But not the kind Captain Hook sailed.

Interestingly, Barrie himself didn't always keep to his own canon. The play that was finally produced in 1904 went through innumerable changes beforehand (for one, Tinker Bell was first named Tippytoe and spoke her lines). And "Hook at Eton," the speech he wrote in 1927, contained some details that contradicted the 1911 novelization that was Peter and Wendy--some details which again complicated my own plot.

This was not the only challenging part of trying to adhere to Barrie's script. I have an irritating mental image of him leaning over my shoulder to say, "If you're sincere about following my plot, Mr. Starkey has to stay in Neverland." (That one necessitated a rewrite of the last section of the book and the absence of a character I'd come to appreciate.) But I felt that I needed to build on the scaffolding of the existing story as much as possible to keep my changes from flying off in directions that Barrie wouldn't appreciate.

There are some beloved elements common to both the book and the better-known Disney film that I wanted to keep--the flying ship, Tinker Bell's temper, the ticking crocodile. There are others I do alter, hoping that I am keeping true to the heart of the story in the process. Where I diverge, I like to think it's in directions Barrie would at least understand, and maybe even appreciate. The character of Tiger Lily, for example, is not one that can be responsibly transferred from the original as written. But Barrie didn't live in a time and place where information about American indigenous cultures would have been readily available, and he was more focused on writing a children's adventure story reminiscent of others popular at the time than on creating an accurate historical depiction. Maybe it's naive of me to consider, but he was a man who prized kindness, and perhaps he would encourage a more realistic and humane view of his "Indian" characters today.

I'm lucky that Peter Pan is known to have a loose relationship with the truth. (It's canon!)When my maternal grandmother wanted to ask if someone was lying, she would say, "Are you telling a story?" And this is crucial to the character of Peter. He loves stories. He first visited the Darling children because he wanted to hear the end of "Cinderella." To him, the line between a story and what the rest of the world recognizes as shared truth is gossamer. We know Peter Pan didn't really kill Blackbeard or Long John Silver, no matter what he says. It's not such a leap for me to tell a story that doesn't quite align with Peter's interpretation of events.

 I love Marjorie Torrey's 1957 illustrations, but her Tinker Bell
is neither voluptuous nor dressed in a single leaf as she should be.

Ultimately, canon is a complicated beast. Several different versions of the Land of Oz--L. Frank Baum's creation, Gregory Maguire's Wicked series--co-exist in my head perfectly compatibly, each appreciated in its own right. But I'm not able to do this with Peter Pan writings because I have too personal an interest in the story. Yet I have a decent collection of illustrated versions of Peter Pan, and I love seeing the variety of approaches artists take. I may be distracted by errors I catch, but there are so many beautiful interpretations which I enjoy on their own terms.

Considering fan fiction (amateur and traditionally published, because the latter absolutely does exist and has for centuries) gives me a few more clues. Alternate or contradictory timelines can be confusing, but I find them possible to compartmentalize. Once fanfic begins taking too many liberties with characters and situations as I've come to understand them, I begin to lose interest. Cross-overs and alternate universes, I leave almost entirely to those who can appreciate them. And once characters begin to act in ways that are antithetical to their origins, I wonder why writers don't cut them loose entirely, accept that they are now writing an entirely new piece, and forge forward with that.

In the end, I believe I accept digressions from canon as long as they respect the author's intent and hew closely enough to it that the initial message isn't lost. I like variations that explore aspects of characters and happenings which were absent from the initial work, that find alternate interpretations of actions and motives, that create occurrences and meetings that could well fit into the official canon but weren't initially written into it. Ideas that actually do fit into the original story if you turn it a bit so the light hits it a new way. This is what I'm trying to do with The Stowaway.

1 comment:

  1. I think, my dear, that it is most important to maintain the moral narrative and the characterizations of a story, even if you must undermine certain events. Remember that any event, and action, exists in the eyes of different viewers, and that it can be true if not The Truth.