The Big Idea: A. C. Wise
Posted on June 1, 2021 Posted by Athena Scalzi 3 Comments
Getting older doesn’t have to mean you can’t go on adventures like all the youngsters. This is certainly the case in A. C. Wise’s newest novel, Wendy, Darling. Grab your bag of pixie dust and come along as she tells you all about how becoming an grown-up doesn’t have to mark the end of your adventures.
A. C. WISE:
One of the big ideas I wanted to explore with Wendy, Darling is the idea of motherhood. What does it mean to be a mother, and specifically, what does it mean to Wendy Darling who once traveled to Neverland where grown-ups and parents are not allowed, and was asked (or forced) to be a mother to the other children there?
In so many fairy tales and classic children’s stories, being a mother means being dead, absent, or in the best-case scenario, left behind to wait and worry while your children are off on an adventure. J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan ends with a whole succession of mothers left behind – first Wendy herself, then her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, so on down the line, all watching their own daughters go off with Peter to Neverland to be his idea of a mother, while they, as actual mothers, are stuck at home.
When it comes to literature aimed at younger audiences, it makes sense that children would be front and center as the primary protagonists. However sometimes this idea gets bound up with the notion that parents – and mothers especially – are meant to fade into the background. Their job is done, they have procreated, and now they are of no more use to the world. In fairy tales in particular, if they resist this idea, they are labeled wicked and unnatural creatures, vainly trying to cling to youth and beauty by destroying their daughters and stepdaughters out of jealousy.
As Wendy, Darling is a novel aimed at adults, and picks up Wendy’s story long after her time in Neverland when she is indeed a mother, I wanted her to be very much at the center of her own story, actively going off to rescue her daughter and confront her past. This centering of Wendy as a mother allowed me to look at different ideas of motherhood, and have Wendy interrogate what motherhood means to her.
When she first goes to Neverland as a child, Peter takes her there specifically to be a mother to himself and the Lost Boys. By Peter’s definition, that means cooking, cleaning, telling stories, and generally taking on all the responsibility so the boys can continue to play endlessly knowing someone will take care of all their needs and they’ll never have to worry about anything. Peter wants Wendy to be an idealized version of a mother, who is only a mother and nothing else, and certainly not an individual with wants and needs of her own. He wants a mother who will take on all the responsibility without imposing any of her own, like bedtimes or rules or making children eat their vegetables. He wants unconditional love, care, and freedom, without having to offer anything in return.
Unsurprisingly, Wendy is not on board with this idea, even as a child. She is even less enamored with the concept when she returns to Neverland as an adult and an actual mother with the understanding that sometimes being a mother means making decisions that will be wildly unpopular with your child, being seen as unfair, and even being seen as the villain for putting your foot down and spoiling the fun in order to keep your child safe. The reality of being a mother, for Wendy, also means having something to fight for, someone she is not willing to lose, no matter what the consequences of the actions she must take to save them.
While I am not personally a mother, I have a mother, several in fact, and I think mothers are awesome! They absolutely should get to go on adventures and save the day and fight for what they love. They should get to define what motherhood means for themselves, rather than being fit into someone else’s idealized version of motherhood, and they should get to balance their roles as mothers with their role as individuals.
Sometimes the adventures they go on might be messy and complicated. Sometimes they might be conflicted about being heroes, but they are absolutely capable of being heroes none the less. They shouldn’t have to fade into the background to make way for the next generation, slipping off the page or the screen or waiting and worrying and sitting at home. They can be at the center of the story, saving the day, and that is the big idea behind Wendy, Darling.
Wendy, Darling: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow her on Twitter.
I love this idea – opened a new window to acquire the book!
A.C. Wise and Fran Wilde just did an Instagram Live reading of a few sections of the book, in case you want a little preview!
I’ve never read the original play, but after re-watching two productions in adulthood (the beautiful but horrifyingly racist and misogynist Disney movie, and the recent-ish Allison Williams TV play, which has the advantage of being super gay), I’ve been obsessed with the idea that PP is a feminist horror story. Wendy is the only real character– Peter is just a catalyst/trickster/force-of-nature and the brothers and lost boys are just scenery. She wants adventure and also she is sexually attracted to Peter, in a dawning childlike way. But he only strings her along until he wrings all the physical and emotional labour out of her (as you point out) and loves playing her off every other woman alive (seriously, in the Disney movie, EVERY SINGLE FEMALE CREATURE Wendy meets tries to kill her on sight). The moral seems to be: for a straight woman, there will never be adventure, there will never be equalty and understanding with your partner (or sexual fulfillment of any kind), there will only be chores. And so on for your daughter and all daughters to come.