Sequel finds Peter Pan unchanged, Neverland in trouble

British writer Geraldine McCaughrean is preparing to take young readers back to Neverland with the publication on Thursday of an authorized sequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan.

British writer Geraldine McCaughrean is preparing to take young readers back to Neverland with the publication on Thursday of an authorized sequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan.

The plot to her book, Peter Pan in Scarlet, has been a closely guarded secret, though the New York Times leaked part of it at the end of August.

The first chapter has been released in advance ofpublication of the book, which is to be launched Thursday at Kensington Palace.

"The book was not hard to write, because Peter really got a grip on me," said McCaughrean, who beat nearly 200 other entries in a competition to choose an author for the sequel.

She has set the book about 20 years after Barrie's story, with Wendy a young mother and the Lost Boys now Old Boys.

When John finds a cutlass in his bed and the other boys have disturbing dreams of crocodiles and war paint, Wendy knows what they have to do.

"Something is wrong in Neverland, gentlemen," she announces. "And that is why we must go back."

In the process of going back, they are transformed into children again, ready to have a new adventure with Peter Pan in a vastly transformed Neverland.

McCaughrean has discarded Barrie's Edwardian language in the book, but stuck very close to the original in tone and character development.

Unlike many of the unauthorized sequels to the beloved classic, McCaughrean's version does not portray Peter Pan as heroic and kindly.

Instead he is the selfish, self-centred creation that Barrie made him, and just as likely to perform acts of childish cruelty.

McCaughrean's story introduces a new fairy, although Tinkerbell comes in later and is set in a similar world of fantasy, featuring occasionally dark encounters with pirates, animals and a circus.

The former teacher and journalist, who has won three prestigious Whitbread literary awards for her children's books, said she identifies in some ways with Barrie.

Children need'this other world'

"We both understand that children need this other world. They need to get away from being small and subjugated," she said.

"And we both love fairies and the magical."

McCaughrean said she rejected the idea of a contemporary Peter Pan, but has created a story suitable for contemporary children, with Wendy taking a more active role.

Oxford will publish the book in the U.K., and Simon & Schuster in the U.S. The U.S. edition, priced at $37.99 according to Chapters Indigo,is to be sold in Canada.

James Matthew Barrie bequeathed the rights to Peter Pan and all the characters from his novel to The Great Ormond Street Hospital in London when he died.

The hospital, which held British, but not U.S., copyright on the books, has used funds from the rights to rebuild and offer services for children.

Peter Pan in Scarlet is also to be a fundraiser, helping the hospital restore or rebuild wings dating from the 1930s.

The Peter Pan character first appeared in a 1902 novel, The Little White Bird, and the play about him premiered at the Duke of York's theatre in London two years later.

Barrie turned the story into a children's book in 1911, and its combination of mystery and magic have made it a classic.

Barrie had no children, but adopted the Llewelyn Davis boys when their parents died of cancer. He often preferred the company of children to adults.

"But where I differ from Barrie is that I don't believe that life goes downhill after childhood," McCaughrean said in one of the interviews she has been giving in Britain to promote the book.

Publishers on both sidesof theAtlantic are hoping the book, aimed at readers aged eight and up, will be this year'sChristmas hit.

McCaughrean has written 125books, including children's versions of The Odyssey and The Canterbury Tales.

With files from Associated Press