Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Captain Hook Christmas (continued)

Three years ago, when I wrote about my Captain Hook Christmas, I didn't know all that much about Captain Hook nutcrackers. In fact, I didn't realize how much there was still to learn until I visited the Nutcracker Museum in Leavenworth, Washington.

I was hoping the museum might have a Steinbach Captain Hook from 1991, now retired and hard to find. And it does, along with two other characters from Peter Pan. And the display also contains two other Captain Hook nutcrackers from other manufacturers. (Of course, there may be others that I missed--the museum has thousands of nutcrackers, from historical to current versions.)

A rather better pic than I was able to get.

These figures are from the Christian Ulbricht Peter Pan character set, a Walt Disney licensed edition from possibly 1991. I can find very little information on this collection, which is the opposite of my usual ventures into research. Jolly fellow, this particular Jas. Hook.

And here's a Hook from closer to my Seattle home, made by Mcdowell's Enchanted Woodworks in British Columbia, Canada.

I noticed that only the Steinbach version has the hook on the correct hand, as described by author J. M. Barrie. The others are evidently based on the inescapable Walt Disney Studios animated Peter Pan.

Once again, I find that Peter Pan lurks everywhere, even in small Bavarian-styled towns in the Cascade mountains. As, it seems, do blog posts.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The adventure continues

Three and a half years and 117 posts ago, this blog was born. It's now reached and passed 50,000 hits. This seems like a good time to look back at what I've found particularly interesting during my research for The Stowaway.

The five most popular posts are listed there at the right side of the page. I had no idea Mr. Smee was so popular before I started Hook's Waltz. But here are another five, with links, that I think deserve a little love as well.

By Mabel Lucie Atwell, 1921

Keeping faith
There are certain challenges of being true to a character who has been portrayed as many ways through the years as Peter has.

~ ~ ~

By Anne Graham Johnstone, 1988

Why they flew away
Why was it so easy for Peter Pan to convince the Darling children to join him in Neverland? The answer is less sinister than you might think. 

~ ~ ~

Return to Neverland Happy Meal toys.

Peter and the popular media
Movie tie-in toys have been around longer than McDonald's has.

(I wish now I had never gone searching for images of vintage Peter Pan toys. I guess there's a little more room in the display cabinet.)

~ ~ ~

Writer Maurice Hewlett. Not only did J. M
Barrie recruit him for his struggling cricke
team, he borrowed his son's name for one
of the pirates in Peter Pan.

Friends in unexpected places
James Matthew Barrie had no problem writing his friends into his stories, even if dreadful things happened to the characters.

Bonus: He also had no problem pressing them into service on perhaps the worst amateur cricket
team in history.
Sports and letters

Additional bonus:
The cricket rivalry has been resurrected!
A new sports rivalry between Authors and Actors 

~ ~ ~

By Marjorie Torrey, 1957

Of kisses and lost children 
And finally, my most personal take on the story of Peter Pan, with its expression of the indelible mark left by the death of a child.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Down to the sea in ships (and wooden boats)

Every summer since starting The Stowaway, I've made a point of sailing at least once on the brig Lady Washington and seeing as many other ships as I can. But this year I not only missed the Wooden Boat Festival at Seattle's Lake Union, I was perilously close to missing a sail on the Lady as well. Luckily, the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival was a chance to remedy both.

A day that broke cool and cloudy turned blue and bright by midday. Fortunately, a boat festival is an easy place to buy a hat.

The festival is a showcase for over a hundred boats, large and small, motored and paddled and sailed.

And there she was--the Lady Washington.

 A perfect place from which to watch the parade of sail that ends the last day of the festival, and a chance to remind myself of those small sensory details of being aboard a ship that are part of Vivian Drew's story. (Of course, a fully-booked sail is not quiet, and not the place to hear the wind in the rigging. Cannon ball "booms" are another story.)

Our pirate nemesis! Luckily, she was not very large.

And so the summer's boat quest ended successfully, with not only a fun experience but with a few nautical observations I should have probably made before. There really is nothing like first-hand research if one can manage it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Or you could not.

All I have to say about Talk Like a Pirate Day is this.

It's Robert Newton's fault.

I suppose that might be quite a bit.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Peter Pan and Patsy Stone

Patsy Stone and Edina Monsoon--leads of the new Absolutely Fabulous movie--may be monstrous (although I find them less so in their current incarnation). But my uncomfortable admiration of Patsy may be possible because I know actress Joanna Lumley is not only an activist for causes in the areas of human rights and animal welfare, but has also been instrumental in saving the house and garden where a young J. M. Barrie first dreamed of Peter Pan.

Barrie attended Dumfries Academy for five years, and played with the two boys who lived in the adjacent Moat Brae estate. From these games came the first inklings of the characters and plot of Peter and Wendy.

… when shades of night began to fall, certain young mathematicians shed their triangles, crept up walls and down trees, and became pirates in a sort of Odyssey that was long afterwards to become the play of Peter Pan. For our escapades in a certain Dumfries Garden, which is enchanted land to me, were certainly the genesis of that nefarious work, Peter Pan.” -- J. M. Barrie, 1924, upon being awarded the Freedom of the Burgh of Dumfries

The house was built in 1823, eventually converted to a private hospital and nursing home, abandoned by the 1990s and slated for demolition. But in 2007, the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust was created to restore the house and gardens and convert the estate to Scotland's first National Centre for Children's Literature and Storytelling--an educational and cultural center for both local schools and anyone who loves the works of J. M. Barrie.

Dumfries is an economically challenged area, and the site was to be used for affordable housing. But the center does not abandon the goal of helping the town. It will bring tourist trade, jobs, and volunteer opportunities to Dumfries, along with skills development and literacy education.

The Discovery Garden will have a Neverland theme.

Lumley is patron of the trust, and in 2011 she launched the fundraiser which has raised £5.3 of its £5.8 target. Moat Brae will host artists in residence and hold ongoing workshops and artists in residence--programs which have already begun, even though the entire project won't be complete until 2018. One such event was an morning family presentation in March 2016 with Lumley and comedian David Walliams, who is not only popular for his work with comic Matt Lucas, but for the five children's books he's written, which have sold well over two million copies.

Another presentation was a 2015 production of scenes from Barrie's very first play, Bandelero the Bandit, which he wrote at the age of 17, and which had unexpected success when a local clergyman declared it immoral. Barrie thought the play lost, but a copy of the script was found in the U.S., and a full production will eventually be staged at Moat Brae.

Naturally, Christine de Poortere, keeper of the Peter Pan archives at Great Ormond Street Hospital, has visited Moat Brae, where she met with the children from a local school.

And a picture book--Sixteen String Jack and the Garden of Adventure--was published in 2015 about Moat Brae House and J. M. Barrie's adventures there. (When my copy arrives, you can read about it here.) It's written by Tom Pow and illustrated by Sendak Fellowship recipient Ian Andrew, and is available (along with other books about Moat Brae and J. M. Barrie) at the impressive Moat Brae website.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Progress report

I'm interrupting the usual focus of this blog for a progress report. Hook's Waltz is, after all, a blog in the service of a book, a book which has been long in its creation, and it seems appropriate to take note of its evolution as I move into (what I hope is) the final stretch.

It's an entire book now, albeit one which is not in its final form. I squeezed fifty-odd pages of notes into fifteen, at least of half of which I hope to find a place for in the final draft. (As bad as that sounds, the original "notes" document was a staggering 115 pages.) And there still a couple of spots with blue lettering--so I can't miss it--saying things like "Insert accurate nautical terminology here!" The historical aspects of The Stowaway mean that I can never learn too much.

I'm reading the manuscript out loud (to the delight or chagrin, I'm not sure which) of the feral foster cat who is my audience. I've read that writing fiction on a computer short-circuits some of the processes that handwriting facilitates. I don't know the truth of that, but I do know that repetitive stress injuries and bad handwriting (I blame grad school, because it was fine before that) mean that I will never write a book long-hand. But reading aloud seems like it may accomplish some of the same aims.

It's my preferred method of finding words I overuse (ahem), sentences that don't flow, bits that don't fit with other bits. This method is harder and creates more work than the other revisions I've done, and I can't say it's my favorite part of writing. I do, however, appreciate the results.

Before I can call The Stowaway a finished work, I want to make sure I have enough understanding celestial navigation to be able to write Vivian Drew's experience of learning it. Trigonometry was the only math class I ever enjoyed, but that was long enough ago that its tenets are no longer at my ready retrieval. I've learned how to read a sextant, but there's far more to the art and science of navigation than that.

I am also immersing myself in relevant works so that I'm living the narrative as much as I can while I complete the manuscript.

I will also make time for DVD watching, so images of faraway places are clear in my mind. (Maybe Robert Newton's Long John Silver isn't so good for research. But it was a lucky thrift-store find, and does fit with the general immersion theme.)

My beta readers are ready. I have a background in non-profit grant-writing that I plan to turn towards synopsis and query letters.

And then I run up the sail and strike out for distant shores.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The artist who dressed the pirates

You may not know the name of its artist, but there's a good chance you know this painting:

Captain Keitt, 1907, by Howard Pyle

It's one of the more popular pieces of pirate art in circulation. And if you've seen a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you know that the influence of the artist, Howard Pyle, continues today. Historical records speak of pirates wearing finery stolen from aristocratic captives, but it was Pyle who turned the notion into the raffish fashions we still associate with the trade.

Painted 1910, the year before Pyle's death

The Mermaid is another one of Pyle's familiar works. I'm pretty sure I still have my poster of this somewhere (continuing my habit of being unrelentingly drawn to art and objects from the Edwardian era). You can find this image printed on t-shirts and mugs and magnets and any number of other items.

"The Buccaneer was a Picturesque Fellow"
(Yes, indeed he was.)

While in a collectible-book store in Port Townsend, Washington, recently, I found a copy of Pyle's Tales of Pirates and Buccaneers, a slimmed down 1994 children's edition of the original Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates: Fiction, Fact & Fancy Concerning the Buccaneer. Not long after, a thrift store yielded a 1954 reprint of his version of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, complete with colored illustrations. I took this as a hint to do a bit of research on this man who created what we think of as piratic style today.

Pyle, who was born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1853, became well-known not only for his magazine and book illustrations, but for retellings of the legends of such classic characters as King Arthur and Robin Hood. He founded a free school of art in Wilmington, where many of his students, including Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth, went on to significant success as members of what is now known as the Brandywine School. Notably, 40 of his 110 students were women, including his sister Katharine Pyle, who became a popular illustrator of fairy tales.

His talents even extended to costuming, and he designed the costumes for the Broadway production "Springtime" in 1909. (Further proof of Pyle's continued relevance is shown by his presence in that blog and others.) On November 9, 1911, he died of illness in Florence, Italy, where he had traveled to further his own study of art. He left "The Mermaid" unfinished on his easel--so the painting we have today isn't necessarily the final vision he had planned for the work.

"Who are we that Heaven should make
of the old sea a fowling net?"

This one was new to me and I find it particularly evocative. I see a bit of Jas. Hook and Vivian Drew in it, even if it's not set in the Edwardian era of The Stowaway, or about pirates at all. Rather, it's an illustration for The Second Chance by James Branch Cabell, published in Harper's Monthly Magazine in Oct. 1909. It features a Lord Pevensey and a Lady Ormerod, a name which caught my attention as Jan Ormerod is one of my favorite Peter Pan illustrators. We come full circle again.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Good news for collectors (sometimes)

Something I've found while researching The Stowaway is a vast and (to me, at least) surprising discrepancy in the prices of out-of-print books. Some academic volumes from the ancient days of the 1980s are so expensive I can't justify buying one for a single essay on Peter Pan. But in a much happier turn of events, books from the turn of the 19th century are often ridiculously affordable. They're sold as "used," not quite antiques, not quite archivable. And while they're not as cheap as a used Grisham novel, they're also not the price you might expect for tangible bits of history.

I continue to take advantage of the situation.

The most expensive of the books above, Volume I of The Novels, Tales and Sketches of J. M. Barrie, was $10. The others were half that or less. (Ironically, I can't read them now because I have begun channel Barrie's writing style with almost no provocation, and it begins to seep into The Stowaway, where it doesn't belong.)

 I can only conclude these books have fallen into "the Trough of No Value." Mike Johnston of The Online Photographerr has this graph in his essay on the subject:

Johnston's examples include photographic negatives, computers, and lunchboxes from the 1950s and 1960s. "One of the problems of historical preservation is that people only tend to preserve things that are valuable," he writes. "And the problem with that is that value fluctuates over time." This, of course, is difficult to predict.

He also mentions that the craftsmanship of an item can determine its fall into the Trough. And this applies to books as well, of course. A perfectly-preserved first edition of a still-popular book may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars--why I don't yet have my own first edition of Peter and Wendy. But if someone like me wants a book mainly for its contents, it's worth keeping track of the Trough.

Luckily for my own collecting, I often appreciate a book all the more if it shows signs of its lifespan and evidence that it was loved. A "Merry Christmas" message from Aunt Lizzie, 1909, has value to me which it might not to a regular book collector. (This is the same impulse that has prevented me from refinishing the table I used as the background for these book photographs. A practical nostalgia?)

If you're willing to overlook some damage and signs of age, you can find a treasure trove of books from the Edwardian era. They may be offered by some unexpected sources, and that's part of the fun. I paid under $20.00 for most of these, some of which I discovered in used or antique book stores, others which I found on eBay or from ABE Books.  If they were first editions, or in better condition, they would of course be priced higher, although I think most of them would still qualify as "affordable." But I find value in their shabbiness, in evidence they were read and maybe even loved.

My copy of the 1907 The Girl's Own Annual 

So if you're interested in books of a hundred years ago, this is a good time to buy them. There's no guarantee they'll go up in price, of course, and we can't predict the desires and contexts of future societies. But from what I've observed, and from what the Trough of No Value tells us, these affordable books aren't likely to stay that way forever.

"I must go down to the sea again"

Not  Peter Pan, but relevant to The Stowaway

These books come to us without commentary, giving us a direct look into history without the overlay of our present priorities. And of course reading books from another era is one of the best ways to learn the diction and styles of writing from the past--very useful when writing about those times. But that's a subject for another day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The haunting of Kensington Gardens

There are places in this world that seem to exist as much in fiction as they do in reality: Times Square, Hawaii, Paris. Kensington Gardens in London is another such place, providing inspiration for J. M. Barrie and other writers, and sparking a world entire for Argentinian author Rodrigo Fresán.

I circled Kensington Gardens for a while before I dared open it. Given that it's about a children's book author who kidnaps the young actor who has been hired to play his character Jim Yang, I feared it might not be friendly to my own possibly-romanticized views of Barrie and my Beatles-obsessed early adolescence. The chance of horrific violence tainting either or both also felt like a real possibility. Happily, what I found between its covers was completely different--and far stranger.

Map by Arthur Rackham for the 1906 first edition
of Barrie's The Little White Bird

Kensington Gardens, translated beautifully by Natasha Wimmer, has been described by more than one reviewer as surreal. The narrative wanders through time, a dizzying weaving of facts and images, filled with musings on creativity, death, childhood, and cultural change. The son of a socialite and a rock musician, brother of a boy who died in childhood, Peter Hook (no relation to the Joy Division/New Order bassist) sees ghosts everywhere--whether literary or actual--in his own life, in Barrie's, in the lives of the Llewellyn-Davis boys who inspired the stories of Peter Pan.

Hook is obsessed with Peter Pan and even more so with his author. "Barrie, who suffered so much for us, who died for our sins, and whose only and unpardonable crime was having written an infectious creature carrying an incurable disease," he says. He is determined to find parallels between Barrie's and his own, even when this means ascribing motivations and feelings to Barrie that may have no basis in reality. Given that the even the narrator admits he is unhinged and self-destructive, perhaps we shouldn't take his musings too seriously. Fresán suggests as much in his afterword. But Barrie and Hook are both indelibly marked by the deaths of their brothers when they are children, and perhaps the same ghosts do haunt them both.

Kensington Gardens is thoroughly researched, and I learned a few new facts about Barrie. He was ambidextrous, for one. And as I suspected, like many writers, he was changed forever by World War I and the loved ones he lost to the conflict.

From Fresán's book, I also learned about poet Humbert Wolfe. A popular British writer of the 1920s, he's not well-known now, but I've seen his poem "Autumn (Resignation") on more than one Tumblr post. A version of Kensington Gardens also existed vividly in Wolfe's imagination, and he wrote an entire book on the park in a style not unlike that of e. e. cummings, including--of course--a piece on its famous statue of Peter Pan.

Humbert Wolfe, as drawn by his friend
William Rothenstein in 1931


Peter Pan
leave your dead
tunes, you faun
of gingerbread !

Over hills
you never guessed
than Everest,

blows an older
colder reed
the belovèd
children heed,

(O icy-thin !)
Pan, who was Piper
at Hamelin.

From my own visit, October 2014

Peter Pan as the Pied  Piper is not the most unreasonable comparison. More likely, perhaps, than the duality between Jim Yang and Peter Pan, despite what Peter Hook may believe.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Peter goes to France

Occasionally I search eBay for unfamiliar versions of Peter Pan books and art. I love finding international children's versions of the story--it's always interesting to see the variations in both text and visuals--and this French version did not disappoint.

The illustrations led me to think this translation must be very different from Barrie's story. Note that Tinker Bell is hardly the size of a hand, unless that hand belongs to a giant.

I don't speak French (and if someone who does wants to take a look at the book for me, I'd welcome the input), but some time with Google Translate showed me that the story wasn't changed significantly more than other versions simplified for young children. What differs is the inclusion of The Little White Bird in the narrative, including how Peter Pan came to run away from home and how he met a little girl named Mamie. Allusions to those events at the end of the picture book draw the two stories together in a way I haven't seen before: Peter speaks of his mother, who may well be dead since he hasn't seen in her in so long, and returns to Kensington Gardens to play his music for Queen Mab and her fairy subjects.

Some fun bits of the translation include Tinker Bell being renamed Campanelle (after all, a bell tower, or campanile, is a rather more flattering comparison than a bell on a tinker's cart), and the names of the lost boys. Google Translate and some other internet research tells us we have Pipeau (Pipe), Panache (Plume), Plume-au-Vent (Feather on the Wind), Frisottin (Frizzy), Casse-Cou (Daredevil), and Pavre-Fueille (Poor Leaf). Compare these with Tootles, Nibs, Slightly, Curly, and the unnamed twins of the original. Most of the pirates are not named (hmph), but Captain Hook becomes the Pirate Harpon--a title I think the Captain would appreciate. Wendy's brothers are now Mike and Johnny.

There are no pictures of the mermaids, which makes me sad, but this is a rather nice Hook, er,Harpon. The book appears to an international endeavor from Editions Mondiales, Duca del Paris, Paris/Impremerie Steb, Bologne (Italie), with "editorial realization" by Roberto Borghi, adapted by Saulla Dello Strologo, and illustrations by Giu-Pin.

Peter Pan editions published after the 1957 Disney animated film usually show its influence, and Peter's depiction here seems to follow that pattern. I'm a bit concerned about a boy this age and size staying afloat for long in the nest of a bird small enough to make its home in England's Kensington Gardens. Tiger Lily seems to come straight from the cartoon as well, but Wendy in red is an original.