Friday, September 17, 2004

And Now You Know . . . the Rest of the Story

The good news is, not a cent of the royalties will go to sick children in England. The bad news (at least if you’re European): Peter and the Starcatchers cannot be sold in Europe until, at the earliest, 2007. (Why? you ask. Because that’s apparently the way Disney worked out the rights to derivative Peter Pan products—J.M. Barrie left the proceeds to a children’s hospital in England, the English legislature extended its copyright period when Peter Pan’s copyright ran out, and it is set to run out again in 2007, plus, apparently, every country in the EU has to respect the other countries’ laws. Not that Disney can complain; their trademark mouse has been protected by at least two gratuitous copyright extensions here.)

But Peter and the Starcatchers, a collaborative work by Dave Barry (of the booger jokes) and Ridley Pearson (a crime novelist) can be bought and sold in the Americas, Asia, Australia, and, I assume, Antarctica. My copy’s signed by the authors. And, on that note, Mr. Barry is as funny in person as he is on the page. He and Mr. Pearson walked up to the reading stage in Barnes & Noble in pirate patches and hats, and cracked wise between reading chapters, and especially in answering questions (many of the audience apparently believing that Mr. Barry was a children’s novelist, and not a booger columnist).

Which leads to the book, conceived of as a prequel answering various unanswered questions from Mr. Barrie’s Peter Pan. The authors play together in the Rockbottom Remainders, but live in separate states (how do they practice? they play songs of three chords or fewer and, if they do a terrible job in performance, they’ll practice the song afterward). The book ping-ponged back and forth over email; each took generally the point of view of certain characters, wrote the original draft, and then jointly revised any number of times. The result reads organically, although there are a number of one-liners that are instantly recognizable as unadulterated Dave Barry.

It’s published by Disney Editions/Hyperion Books for Children, which recommends the book for ages 10 and up; Mr. Pearson says his daughter’s friend, a first-grader, read the galleys twice, once in two days and then again in three. And Mr. Barry insists that their target demographic is anyone with $18; he’d be fine with cows’ buying it, although he’s so far only at the show-the-pictures stage with his two-year-old.

The cows would have to have both a sense of humor and of adventure; otherwise, the book wouldn’t do much for them. Anyone with both senses, though, is bound to enjoy Peter and the Starcatchers—it moves briskly and imaginatively. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually read any of the versions of Peter Pan Mr. Barrie wrote; rather, I know the story through Disney’s movie, Disney’s Hook, and probably the stage version that gets occasionally played, which may or may not be the stage version Mr. Barrie wrote. But that was more than enough familiarity to understand what blanks the authors were filling in.

Young adult is where it’s at these days—J.K. Rowling (ever heard of Harry Potter? I hear it sold a couple copies), Michael Chabon (Summerland, which I have yet to read), and now Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson; even Ed Koch, Madonna, and Jamie Lee Curtis (although, admittedly, the last three shoot for an even younger, less-moneyed demographic) (okay, I take that back; having just looked at their books on Amazon, and despite the significantly lower numbers of pages, words, and ideas, both Mr. Koch's and Ms. Madonna's children's picture books cost more than Peter and the Starcatchers, and Mrs. Lee Curtis' books are insignificantly less expensive. Who'd've thunk it?).

In conclusion, read this book or the poor sick European children will have won.