The CHILD THIEF
"Ancient magics combine with feral logic to culminate in Brom’s The Child Thief. A retelling of Peter Pan spanning America’s earliest, magically rich beginnings to today’s bare whispers of belief. Wickedly poetic, The Child Thief makes me want to believe." —Kim Harrison
"Brom has always been an artist who gave us nightmares fully realized, but with the CHILD THIEF, he paints in words. A wonderfully nasty Peter Pan reboot that stands on its own as a dark twisted adventure." —Christopher Golden
"A gruesome and darkly fantastical twist on a classic tale. Brom injescts pure horror into fantasy." —Holly Black
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In the dusk of that early autumn day the child thief peered out from the shadows and falling leaves to watch the children play. The children scaled the giant green turtle, slid down the bright yellow slide, laughed, yelled, teased and chased one another round and round. But the child thief wasn’t interested in these happy faces. He wasn’t looking to steal just any child. He was particular. He was looking for the sad face, the loner…a lost child. And the older the better, preferably a child of thirteen or fourteen, for older children were stronger, had better stamina, tended to stay alive longer.
The Lady of the Lake
Peter had said something about fairies, and pixies, and goblins. Of course Peter had said a lot of nutty things. Were these pixies? It really didn’t matter to Nick at the moment, he was more concerned with the way these creatures were looking at him, like he’d be good to eat.
“Nick,” Peter said, his words quick and urgent. “No matter what you hear, no matter what you see, ignore them. Avoid their eyes. And whatever you do, don’t dare speak to them.” Peter glanced into the fog. “If you lose the path Nick, your bones will never leave the Mist.”
They closed in on him, dancing about with quick epileptic movements. They surrounded the cage and peered in with wild crazy golden eyes, eyes just like Peter’s. Nick now understood that the pointy-eared boy had tricked him so that these things could…could what? Nick glanced at the long knives, at their hungry eyes.
Ulfger walked the path through Devilwood without fear. He sensed the rare creature and when he did, he told it to be afraid and the beasts fled before him. “Dread me,” he whispered. “Dread my coming!”
Nick’s heart drummed in his chest. They were men, not monsters, and somehow seeing their humanity made them all the more ghastly. Some horrible disease had infested their very core. Their skin was scaly, shriveled and black like that of a burn victim, and their faces were distorted as though in great pain.
Like so many before me, I am fascinated by the tale of Peter Pan, the romantic idea of an endless childhood amongst the magical playground of Neverland. But, like so many, my mind’s image of Peter Pan had always been that of an endearing, puckish prankster, the undue influence of too many Disney films and peanut-butter commercials.
That is, until I read the original Peter Pan, not the watered-down version you’ll find in the children’s bookshops these days, but James Barrie’s original –and politically uncorrected—version, and then I began to see the dark undertones and to appreciate just what a wonderfully bloodthirsty, dangerous, and at times cruel character Peter Pan truly is.
Foremost, the idea of an immortal boy hanging about nursery windows and seducing children away from their families for the sake of his ego and to fight his enemies is at the very least disturbing. Though this is fairly understandable when you read in “The Little White Bird” (Peter Pan’s first appearance) that as an infant he left his own nursery to play with the fairies in the park, but upon his return found the windows barred and his mother nursing another little boy—just the sort of traumatic event to leave anyone a bit maladjusted. Rejected, Peter returned to the fairy world and apparently decided things would be a bit more fun if he had a few companions, and not being one to worry on niceties, simply kidnapped them.
But what happens to these children after that? Here is a quote from the original Peter Pan: “The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.”
Thins them out? Huh? What does that mean? Does Peter kill them, like culling a herd? Does he send them away somewhere? If so, where? Or does Peter just put them in such peril that the crop is in need of constant replenishing?
That one paragraph forever changed my perception of Peter Pan from that of a high-spirited rascal to something far more sinister. “Thins them out,” the words kept repeating in my head. How many children had Peter stolen, how many had died, how many had been thinned out? Peter himself said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”
There is certainly no lack of blood letting in Peter Pan: Pirates massacring Indians and so forth, but those are adults killing each other—nothing new there. Much more intriguing to me is that murderous group of children—the Lost Boys. With them, Peter Pan has turned bloodletting into a sport, has taught them not only to kill without conscience or remorse but also to have a damn good time doing it. At one point the boys proudly debate the number of pirates they’d just slaughtered: “Was it fifteen or seventeen?” And how can any child not enjoy such lines as “They fell easy prey to the reeking swords of the boys.”Or “He lifted up one boy with his hook, and was using him as a buckler, when another, who had just passed his sword through Mullins, sprang into the fray.” Nothing like a good spilling of entrails to living things up. And more chilling is Peter’s ability to do all these things—the kidnapping, the murder—all without a trace of conscience: "I forget them after I kill them," he (Peter) replied carelessly.”
Once I pondered these unsettling elements I began to wonder what this children’s book would be like if the veil of Barrie’s lyrical prose were peeled back, if the violence and savagery were presented in grim stark reality. How would children really react to being kidnapped and thrust into such a situation? How hard would it be for them to fall under the spell of a charismatic sociopath, to shuck off the morality of civilization and become cold-blooded killers? Judging from what goes on in modern gang culture, seeing how quick teens are to define their own morals, to justify any action no matter how horrific, I believe it wouldn’t be that hard. And these thoughts were the seeds for The Child Thief.