Thursday, January 04, 2007

Geraldine McCaughrean's PETER PAN IN SCARLET

A couple of weeks ago, a reader of this blog wrote to me to ask if I’d read Geraldine McCaughrean’s book, Peter Pan in Scarlet, released on October 5 of 2006. It is the much celebrated sequel to J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan which started out in the early 1900s as a short story and then a play.

The original had stereotypical portrayals of American Indians. The Disney film brought those images to the big screen, and that same stereotypical Native imagery is present in the Julie Andrews film, too.

It is surprising (and not) to learn that Native stereotypes are in McCaughrean’s sequel. I got the book, and below are excerpts from the first ten pages. When I finish the book, I’ll follow up. In the meantime, have any of you read the entire book yet? Any comments?
Reese notes on Peter Pan in Scarlet:

1) In the opening pages we learn that John is a grown up and that he’s been dreaming about Neverland. Each morning when he wakes, there is something from Neverland in his bed:

“…an alarm clock, a pirate’s tricorn hat, an Indian head-dress” (page 3).

Reese: "An Indian head-dress" -- of course, the single artifact that stands in to signal Indian.

2) All across London, other “Old Boys” are having the same dreams. Wendy, also now grown, decides they must go back to Neverland to find out why dreams are leaking out of Neverland into the “Here and Now.” The Old Boys say:

“Go back to Neverland? Go back to the mysterious island, with its mermaids, pirates, and redskins?” (page 10).

Reese: The word "redskins." In a children's book, in 2006. Defined in most major dictionaries as offensive, yet here it is.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Reese:

The sequel's author has stated over and over again that the book was to be written in the style and tone of J.M. Barrie. I agree with you that she could have found a less offensive term than "Redskins" while still maintaining Barrie's original tone.

That said, this blog is disappointing to me in that context is rarely considered. As a scholar, you must be aware of G.M.'s homage to Barrie in writing this sequel, and therefore the historical constraints she must have been under in writing it. If you are aware of this, you don't report it. If the sequel were contemporary, of course "Redskins" and "Indian head-dress" would have been inappropriate. But it isn't, and your commentary seems more churlish than well-considered.

Anonymous said...

Dear Debbie and Anonymous poster,

I am about halfway through the book and am simply shocked at the depictions of the "Redskins." They are far worse, Debbie, than those you note on the first few pages, especially when "Redskin" characters appear in the text later on as ignorant savages.

I understand the author was writing a tribute that needed to stay true to the original text, but the "Redskins" depicted in the sequel are not necessary to the plot or the verisimilitude of the text and they only, for me, deter from an otherwise well-written novel. I simply don't understand why the author and the editor felt these depictions were appropriate or even needed.

--Annette Wannamaker

Anonymous said...

IThere was no need to have a sequel written to this book in the first place other than the publisher, author, etc., wanting to earn money off the fame of the first book.

In this light, all of the above comments, which try to perceive the sequel as a serious literary effort, are meaningless anyway.

The sequel is NOT a serious literary effort! It can't be! It's a knock-off from someone else's work and therefore of inferior quality and not worth anyone's serious consideration other than to point out the damaging flaws and stereotypes whcih have been completely unnessesarily perpetuated by it. It's just a money-making effort to squeeze more bucks out of the fame of the original book, that's plain as day.

Any serious literary effort would have resulted in ORIGINAL work, a new original fairytale, and work, hopefully, in this day and age, free from words like "redskins," etc.

Saints and Spinners said...

I reviewed Peter Pan in Scarlet for SLJ. While I mentally winced at the "Redskins" references (just as I did with Peter Pan), I thought, "The author is trying to maintain Barrie's tone." In hindsight, I wish I had included my reactions in my review. I feel badly about that, and I apologize. Otherwise, I enjoyed Peter Pan in Scarlet more than I did the original.

Quijotesca said...

"whether Puppy was best cooked with giner, squid, or piri-piri sauce."

You mean ginger? Also, piri-piri is African, so I have no idea what the author was going for here.

Debbie Reese said...

Yes, it is ginger.

Debbie Reese said...

Re the question about giner/ginger, the comment references my more recent post(s) re this book.


Amurana said...

I am an American who has moved to England, and have been slowly learning how differences today are leftover from differences ages ago. Here in England the term 'Redskin' is still used, as well as 'Red Indian' to differenciate between Native Americans and actual Indians when speaking. I have yet to hear anyone use it in a negative way, or meet anyone here with a negative opinion of Natives. The English today seem to have a different cultural opinion than those raised in America, and are more concerned with all the other countries they once owned. There is plenty of racism to study here against most of the world!!
Which is interesting, in that modern Americans mostly pretend the 'rest of the world' only exists in theory and has no relevance in personal lives.

Anonymous said...

Although this is an old post, I'd like to correct one inaccuracy in the comments above - which doesn't have bearing on whether the use of Redskins/Red Indians is offensive in the Peter Pan sequel, but is still worth mentioning.

Rindawriter says:
"There was no need to have a sequel written to this book in the first place other than the publisher, author, etc., wanting to earn money off the fame of the first book."

I'd just like to correct this - JM Barrie gave the rights to Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street (Children's) Hospital in order to raise money in perpetuity for the hospital:

It's an incredibly important hospital which is dedicated to caring for very sick children.

The charity that funds the hospital commissioned the sequel to raise additional funds for the hospital and its research.

I know it's a small point, but it's worth saying that the main motivation in creating a sequel was not greed.

Just to emphasise at the end here though, I'm not arguing that its portrayal of native americans isn't offensive!