When I was in high school, my English teacher gave all his senior English classes an assignment: pick something you don’t like, that you’ve written off as “not for you”, and find someone who likes it to reintroduce it to you. After they’ve done their worst, write a paper on how/if your views have changed. It’s been over a decade, but I still think about that assignment often. I love the premise of it: that there’s value in liking things, and that understanding someone else’s enjoyment can help you enjoy it too. It flies in the face of that edgy attitude of defining yourself by what you don’t like instead of what you do. It says joy has value, and can be shared. The sound you hear just now, of wind whistling by your ear, is the sound of me fist-pumping in agreement. Yeah! says my furiously pumping fist. Finding what works in a narrative is just as important as finding things to criticise!
I thought about the assignment again last month when I read Austin Chant’s Peter Darling. I was utterly enchanted by this Peter Pan story. Something about a transgender Peter, who was just as gutsy and obnoxious as all the other Peters but had been named Wendy at birth, allowed me to connect to the narrative in a way I never had before. It was eye-opening. At long last the nostalgia and poignancy of Peter Pan made sense to me, instead of swinging wildly between too-childish adventures in Neverland and too-serious depictions of adult life outside of it. In Peter Darling I found my handholds into a world I’d wanted to like but never really managed to get into. It felt wonderful. And it was a reminder—again—that one person’s passion for a thing can induct others into it. The thousands of Peter Pan spinoffs in this world will be more accessible to me from here on out, and I have Austin Chant to thank for it.
I didn’t really go into Peter Darling hoping Chant could warm me to Neverland, however. I just thought the premise sounded entertaining—which brings us to the Goodreads review section. Most reviews start in one of two ways: either with the reviewer stating they love all things Peter Pan and have to read anything Peter Pan related, or with them stating they don’t really care for Peter Pan but this book caught their eye. It’s a reminder of why these retellings are so lucrative: either you tempt in people who already love the source material, or you catch people in some other way and they’re not put off by the link to the original. There’s probably a cap on how many retellings a person can take in a year, but on the whole it’s inoffensive.
Public domain classics aren’t the only thing I’m interested in learning to like. Over the past few years, exposure to one A. A. Lukens as one of my movie-watching companions has turned me into a person who can appreciate well-choreographed action sequences (what have I become?!) and outright enjoys horror movies. Their enthusiasm for good action and squeals of bliss over the little plot twists that happen within a hand-to-hand fight might not turn me into an action lover, but I’ve at least ascended to being an action appreciator. This improves my life even if I never actively do anything with it. Something that bored me now entertains me. Score!
It feels small, going through life and trying to find the little bits in everything that appeal to me, but it definitely keeps me going. It draws me out of my comfort zone and expands it. It doesn’t save or cure anything—but I like it, and I recommend it, and I think reading and watching and listening widely can only make for a more interesting world. Is there anything you’ve learned to like, after a tricky start?