We don't like to say it in mixed company, but most writers hear voices in our heads. One of those insistent voices led me to write my new fantasy novel, Alias Hook.
My "day job" is writing film reviews for an alternative weekly newspaper in California. I was writing a review of a live-action Peter Pan movie in January, 2004; of the actor playing Captain Hook, I wrote that he captured "the tragedy of a grown-up Hook trapped forever in Peter's eternal childhood." Instantly, a caustic voice popped into my head observing the Neverland from Hook's point of view. I hit 'Save,' clicked open a new doc and hastily typed in what is now the opening paragraph of the book:
Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile, which drags him down to a watery grave. Who could guess that below the water, the great beast would spew me out with a belch and a wink of its horned, livid eye? It was not yet my time to die, not then nor any other time. It's my fate to be trapped here forever in a nightmare of childhood fancy with that infernal, eternal boy.
Sure, everybody knows about Peter Pan, the boy who won't grow up, and his magical island paradise, the Neverland. But imagine if you were an adult trapped forever in a world run by prepubescent boys. That would certainly be my vision of Hell! And so I began to ponder the plight of Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends.
I've always liked Captain Hook better than Peter Pan; for one thing, he has much funnier lines! What, I wondered, had his life been like before the Neverland—as a child, a young blood about town, a gentleman privateer, a pirate? What on earth had he ever done to deserve this fate, designated nightmare to generations of storybook-reading children? So, long before I ever had a plot in mind, I was writing dozens of scenes from Hook's perspective. It was more like transcribing, really, as he told me who he was and how he got there, sharing his observations on the Neverland and its inhabitants, commenting on his dire relationship to Pan, his history, his dilemma. It really was just like eavesdropping on a conversation (or a monologue); I don't know any other way to describe it.
For source material on the Neverland, I went back to Peter and Wendy, James M. Barrie's 1911 novelization of his famous play, and I was astonished at how much darker and more subversive it is than the familiar play; it's about children but not necessarily for children. The fairies attend orgies (although Barrie, unlike me, is too discreet to include one), the pirates and Indians routinely slaughter each other for the boys' amusement, and a strange, simultaneous adoration and fear of women—specifically, mothers—runs throughout the story.
But it also seemed to me that Barrie hardly even scratched the surface of the Neverland he created, with all its complex enchantments, so I thought it would be fun to delve beneath that surface and explore what life is really like for the fairy sisterhood, the merwives, and the Indian tribes. Let alone all those generations of former Lost Boys and Wendys who never quite fit back in the real world after they've been to the Neverland.
And so my plot finally started to take shape. The key to everything was a new character I invented, Stella Parrish, a grown woman who dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of the boy's rules against "ladies." From the erotic glamor of the Fairy Revels to the ceremonies of the First Tribes to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. In Hook himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain. With her knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be his last chance for redemption, even release—if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys can hunt her down and drag Hook back into their neverending game.
I once heard someone describe Homer's The Odyssey as the hero's "journey from the masculine to the feminine." And I realized that Alias Hook has a similar narrative drive. My hero has to rise above the pointless war games perpetrated by the boys that have always oppressed him, overcome his rage at the world and his fear of the (mostly feminine) magical forces that govern the Neverland, learn to cooperate with his "enemies," and risk everything for love, before he can earn his release.
It took me a long time to figure out Stella's character. She was fairly inert through the first few drafts; she did what I told her, but she wasn't yet a good match for James Hook. It wasn't until I started letting her be funny—despite the tragic past that drives her to flee to the Neverland—that she came alive on the page.
With Stella in place, Captain Hook finally has a chance to write himself a different ending. Alias Hook is a story of love and war, male and female, and the delicate art of growing up.