Category Archives: Reviews

“Peter Pan” and “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens”

Peter Pan was my favourite Disney movie as a kid (until my parents brought home Aladdin), but I had never read the book that the movie was based on until earlier this month. I found it a lot of fun to read, and I definitely intend to read it to my kids (if and when I have any, of course).

Some elements of Peter Pan definitely hearken from an earlier age: Wendy is just delighted to be able to spend nearly all of her time cooking and cleaning for a tribe of unruly boys, as any self-respecting young woman would be; Peter and the Lost Boys–along with John and Michael–kill pirates, actually kill them; and the representations of the Indians are pretty heavily stereotyped. But the sense of adventure and excitement in the book are still strong, as the characters fly around Neverland and get mixed up in all kinds of fun and trouble.

The writing is quite clever at times. I love how Mrs. Darling is described as having one kiss hidden in the corner of her mouth that you could never quite get to, no matter how hard you tried, and Nana, the children’s St. Bernard nanny, is anthropomorphized in a very amusing way.

Overall, I’d recommend reading Peter Pan, and reading it to children, but there are parts of it that will need some context and explanation so that they don’t convey the wrong ideas.

I also read Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and while it had some amusing parts, some fun concepts (babies are little birds from an island who get sent to parents to grow into babies, and children’s personalities depend on what kind of bird they were), and some emotion (Peter Pan returning to his mother, hoping she has kept the window open for him to fly back in), it didn’t, ultimately, have much purpose or story. It feels much more like a small collection of semi-related stories without any real sense of direction. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but it makes the whole thing feel like less of a book somehow, if you know what I mean.

Les Miserables Impressions

A couple of days ago I finally finished reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. With very little hesitation, I placed it at the top of my “50 Best Books” list.

Why? Well, as far as I’m concerned, Les Mis is a literary masterpiece. It has elements of what I consider to be every aspect of good writing. It is informative, intellectual, intelligent, and inspiring, but it is also emotional, entertaining, and endearing.

The book has an excellent mix of dramatic hooks and diligent high-mindedness: the essays that begin each section, covering such topics as the life of the Paris street urchin, the Battle of Waterloo, the history of social revolution in France, or the complexities of the Paris sewers, are thorough and educational, though I can understand how some readers might not like having so much non-fiction sneak its way into their fiction.

Les Mis also conveys a strong social and moral message. The most obvious of its messages is the concept of redemption, as Jean Valjean, an ex-convict, is redeemed by sacrificial charity and becomes a paragon of virtue. But the themes of the book extend a long ways beyond that. Les Mis is, ultimately, a romantic novel. I don’t mean that in the sense of romantic love: I mean it in the literary sense, meaning that it is a novel of ideal types, i.e., theoretical extremes. Jean Valjean is the strongest man you’ve ever met. The bishop who saves him is the most pure-hearted and charitable character you’ve ever read about. Marius and Cosette’s love is the epitome of high-minded romance. Thenardier is a black-hearted, remorseless snake with no redeeming qualities. Everything is an extreme: that is Hugo’s style. But that does not mean that everything is cliché; far from it. Hugo uses see extremes to drive home his moral perspectives (he values honour, loyalty, merit, purity, asceticism, and so on) and to highlight his social comments. Painting certain elements of life in bold strokes of black and white allows us to more easily see the colours and the grays that would otherwise blend more dimly into the background, and Hugo’s grays are vibrant.

What more can I say? Les Mis is, by turns, heartrending and uplifting, sometimes within the space of a single sentence. The tragedy that Hugo is capable of creating is exquisite–read The Hunchback of Notre Dame for more of that–but the joyous moments that he allows us to share are sweeter because of the depths that we have experienced. This, I feel, imitates life, but, as with the rest of the novel, it is pressed to an extreme.

Not everyone will enjoy or appreciate Les Mis. It’s almost 1,300 pages long, which is enough of a deal-breaker for a lot of people. The essays slow the pace of the book, but there may be abridged versions out there if that’s a significant problem for you. The vocabulary level, at least in the translation I read, is quite high, which to me supplements the romanticism of the book–poetry and poetic language are the natural home of literary romance–but this can make reading certain sections of the book a bit difficult. I found having a dictionary handy (in the form of my iPhone) to be very useful.

But enough with the disclaimers. Les Miserables is, at this point, the best novel I’ve ever read.

Next, I’m reading Peter Pan by JM Barrie.

50 Best Books

I made a list of the 50 books I would most recommend from my own collection. The list only includes books that I both own and have read.

I posted the list as a page, because I intend to update it periodically as my opinions change and as I read more books from my collection.

Feel free to share your opinions about what you’ve read, what you’d recommend, and what you think I should read that might find its way onto this list!