BARRY AND PEARSON: KEEPING PETER PAN ETERNALLY YOUTHFUL
By Paul Freeman
There’s no doubt about it - Peter Pan never grows old. More than a century after the flying little fellow first appeared, authors Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson teamed for ‘Peter and the Starcatchers,” a highly successful series of prequels.
Disney-Hyperion has just published the duo’s latest effort, “The Bridge To Never Land.” In it, modern day teens Sarah and Aidan discover that the Lost Boys tales they had thought to be fiction are actually true, so they set out to find Never Land.
Pearson is known for his penning adult thrillers. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Barry earned renown for his syndicated humor column. What drew them to the Peter Pan legend? “It came from the mouths of babes,” Pearson told Pop Culture Classics.
He was reading “Peter Pan” to his daughter Paige, then five years old, now 14. “She asked me how Peter had met Captain Hook in the first place. And my little author’s antennae started perking up. I wondered how come Peter could fly, why he never grew old and where Tinkerbell came from. It just struck me that, in the classic world, there were these amazing, unanswered questions.”
The following week, Pearson was Miami, for a gig with the authors’ band, Rock Bottom Remainders. In addition to Pearson, the lineup includes Stephen King, Amy Tan and Dave Barry.
Pearson stayed at the home of his good pal Barry. Barry recalled, “He told me about Paige’s question and said he thought it would be a cool idea for a book - Where did Peter Pan come from? I said, ‘Yeah, that does sound like a cool idea.’”
Persaon continued, “I said, ‘You write booger jokes for a living and I kill people. Maybe if we combine those two things, we can have an exciting, funny book.’ And he said ‘I’m in.’ “
They felt no trepidation. Barry said, “You’re stepping into this beloved myth. There are J.M. Barrie purists, who don’t like the idea of anybody doing anything with Peter Pan. But, in our case, that has been the minority. More of the Brits have read the original Barrie version. But most Americans haven’t. It’s wonderful, but it has a very different, stylized, poetic, dreamlike feel. We’ve taken most of the knowledge that most Americans have from Disney cartoons or plays, rather than the original J.M. Barrie work and used that as the foundation for our novels.”
Pearson said, “We didn’t want to go the to dark tone of Barrie’s novella. We preferred the carefree Peter. We didn’t want to go to the simpering Wendy of ‘Oh, gee, Peter, help me! Save me!,’ because we both have girls. And that’s just not how girls are. Our daughters are sort of kick-butt little girls. And that’s where we wanted to take this.
“It never occured to us that we were taking on the great J.M. Barrie legacy. That would have been too intimidating and we probably wouldn’t have done it. We just naively said, ‘Yeah, let’s write a book, man!’ We thought we’d probably print a few copies at Kinko’s. And then Disney got a hold of it. The whole thing just took on a life of its own.”
Their first book, “Peter and the Starcatchers,” was a hit and young fans demanded more. Pearson and Barry wrote three more adventures. Barry said, “Once we created this world and all these characters, we started thinking of other aspects to the story. It’s a trend with young adult fiction to know how many books you’re going to do and have the arc all planned out, to already know the titles and everything. We’ve never done that. We didn’t think we were going to write more than one book.”
They enjoy doing book signings, where both they and their fans dress up in pirate type costumes. While touring to promote their fourth book, the premise for “Bridge” hit them.
Barry said, “We were talking about, if you were in modern times, and you wanted to find Never Land, how would you do that? In this age where everything has been mapped, and there’s GPS, wouldn’t it be cool, if we could find a way to hide it, and then some kids could find it?”
Their books have caught the imaginations of youngsters everywhere. These writers never write down to their audience. In fact, the series has many grown-up admirers, as well.
“There’s no sex or graphic violence, but otherwise, we’re not writing for kids. We just think, ‘What would be a really cool story with a lot of action and wouldn’t be boring,’ not because that’s market-tested for kids, but because it’s the kind of story we like to read. Young adult fiction readers want a lot of plot, want a lot of things to happen. They’re not into a lot of long stretches of character development or descriptions of scenes. They like stuff to happen. Ridley and I also both like that,” Barry laughs. “So we’re kind of writing the story we would like to read.”
Pearson added, “We don’t write for the young readers. That’s a real trap. They’re smart. They’ll sniff that out. We just want to write good stories.”
They enjoy writing together. They divide the work up by chapters, each associating with particular characters. Pearson quipped, “I take the the psychopathic, tyrannical, evil kind of characters and Dave takes the happy-go-lucky, humorous, childlike characters.”
Barry said, “We trust each other, which is the most important thing, so we can be directly critical of each other, knowing it’s just to make the work better. You’re not putting the other person down. I think that’s the key to our success. We started out as close friends and we’re closer now.”
The “Starcatchers” concept is so good, it could be turned into a movie. Rick Ellis, who wrote “Jersey Boys,” has already adapted it into an acclaimed play that will probably reach Broadway soon.
The books’ authors feel that they’ve already reaped amazing rewards. “The great thing about all this has been dealing with young readers,” said Barry, who has an 11-year-old daughter. “No adult reads a book like a kid reads a book. When a kid is into a book, there’s just nothing else in that child’s life, until that child finishes that book. And then they want another one and another one. They think about it and talk about it all the time. When it happens with a book you wrote, that’s a great feeling.”
Pearson, who has another daughter age 12, grew up enthralled by “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” which helped his imagination blossom. “I lived in a fantasy world as a kid, in a fun, happy way. Now I get to do it as an adult and they pay me. I feel very lucky, believe me.”
Email Paul Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.