The Adaptation Watch: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

There’s a popular subset of fan fiction that goes like this: What if the action of XYZ movie/book/play was actually all just in the mind of its protagonist? Ie: What if all the action of The Wizard of Oz really was just a long dream sequence? What if all of Grease is actually Sandy’s fever dream as she’s dying (remember, she “almost drowned” in the ocean with Danny at the beginning)? And so forth.

And it makes sense, of course. As Chris’s old writing teacher said, “There’s only two stories that have ever been told: A stranger comes to town or someone goes on a trip.” In both scenarios, everything starts off “ordinary,” and then something makes it “unusual.” Or in this case, “peculiar.” So it’s tempting to imagine that maybe all the “unusual” stuff was just the wish fulfillment of the protagonist, who could no longer stand the “ordinary.”

missperegrine-bookSo this brings us to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. In this story, conventional wisdom would have it that the protagonist, Jacob, is having a psychotic breakdown after witnessing the vicious murder of his beloved grandfather by wild dogs. His psychiatrist is convinced of this. So is his father. So when Jacob and his dad travel to the British isle where his grandfather lived in an orphanage during WWII, and without much further ado, he begins seeing the mystical humanoid characters his grandfather used to regale him with fanciful stories about… well, it’s not hard to imagine that it’s all in his head.

Everything about Miss Peregrine, in fact, can easily be interpreted as “Wish Fulfilment for Schizophrenics 101.” Let’s see, we’ll do a checklist:

1. The fantastical creatures that he desperately wanted to believe in as a child: real.

2. The “escape” from the real world, in which he can finally live with others “like him”: check.

3. The verification that there is, in fact, something unique about him that his parents just don’t understand: done.

4. The psychiatrist who has condemned him as delusional: actually an evil disguise for an otherworldly monster who was working in cahoots with even worse monsters in order to trap Jacob.

Reading the book from this perspective, I couldn’t help but think the last scene, in which Jacob bids farewell to his father in order to run away and be with his “new friends” (wink, wink), was really, really sad.

OK, yeah, you may be diving in deep there, Rebecca, with the all-in-his-mind concept.  I didn’t pick up on that at all – especially not in Grease!  Perhaps we could say that about Two of a Kind as well – like it is trauma from the bank robbery.  And Xanadu.

Oh wait, this isn’t the Olivia Newton-John blog.  Sorry.

Of course, Chris, I don’t think we’re supposed to read Miss Peregrine that way. I was just fascinated by how well the formula seemed to fit.

Don’t think that my strange take on the novel means I didn’t like it. I actually did like it quite a bit. While I found some of the secondary characters oddly forgettable considering how unique they were meant to be (raise your hand if you can remember which talent Horace had), I liked the protagonist quite a bit, found Emma (the love interest) to be nicely complex and well-developed, and really felt for the dad who just couldn’t seem to find a path out of the loserdom that had come to define his life.

Of course, near as I can tell from the trailer, the movie seems to have played a bit of musical chairs with its characters. In the book, Jack falls for Emma, the girl who makes fire between her hands, while a secondary character who doesn’t really appear as much, Olive, has the ability to defy gravity and float.miss-p-floats

The movie has switched their talents, for reasons I can only assume have to do with the myriad visual opportunities afforded by a leading lady who floats. (There’s an amazing scene in the trailer of “Emma” blowing the water out of a sunken ship so that Jacob can breathe in it. I spent about two-thirds of the book waiting for that scene, before begrudgingly realizing that it wasn’t going to happen. Makes me a bit excited to see what other visual treats we’re in for with the movie.)

The neatest aspect of the novel, and one I was not aware of until I had finished it, is that the 50 black-and-white photographs that appear throughout the book are not recreations, but are in fact real found photos. In fact, the author Ransom Riggs (which I’m totally sure is his real name), started with the old photos, after finding several of them at flea markets and yard sales. He then met with several collectors and historians who had amazing collections and sorted through them, letting the most interesting pictures frame the story he was writing, rather than the other way around.

It’s an effect that often works quite well, even as the anachronistic quality of some of the photos never quite makes sense. IE: Why is Miss Peregrine, who is in her 20s during WWII, shown in all her photos in Victorian garb?

In any event, the photos give the book a unique and totally creepy framework in which to present the story, while adding to a sense of mystery that can never be truly solved. Who were the real people in the photos? What were their true stories? I guess Ransom Riggs’s guess is as good as anybody’s. Or in this case, probably better.

I’ll be honest. Rebecca.  I loved the concept of this novel way more than the execution.  The idea of taking these surreal, old photos and turning them into a story is genius.  However, I spent most of the novel wondering when the story was going to get going.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it, but I wasn’t enthralled enough to bother to pick up Hollow City, the sequel to Miss. Peregrine’s Home for the Peculiar Children.  Something was missing for me: combination of amazing characters and a plot that makes you need to know what happens next.

I read the book a few years ago, happy that I had a hardcopy and not a Kindle, and remember feeling like I wanted more.  It’s a wonderfully woven set up, but by the end I was questioning the direction the plot was taking.  I also didn’t find the characters as memorable as Rebecca, outside of the father.


I do think this book will translate into an interesting adaptation.  It’s in good hands with Tim Burton directing.  And the casting looks spot on.  I’m looking forward to this film, and perhaps this will be the rare case of the film driving me to read the sequel.

Check out the movie opening September 30th nation-wide.  But do the right thing and read the book first.

On Twitter follow Chris @ACCooksonWriter and Rebecca @DownWorldNovel.

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