Jonathan Green is one of the UK’s most prolific creators of franchise fiction. The freelance writer’s credits include Fighting Fantasy, Warhammer 40,000, Doctor Who and Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s also responsible for all sorts of steam punk, science fiction and fantasy novels. His latest project, Neverland Here Be Monsters!, mashes up Peter Pan with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World to create a unique choose your adventure style fantasy gaming experience. It is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.
STARBURST: What is NEVERLAND - Here Be Monsters‽
Jonathan Green: NEVERLAND – Here Be Monsters! Is a brand-new choose your path adventure gamebook, very much in the same style as Fighting Fantasy or Lone Wolf gamebooks, in which you take on the role of the automaton avenger Peter Pan or the shipwreck survivor Wendy Darling.
It’s an old school solo-RPG but with design elements inspired by modern developments in video games. There is not only one way through the adventure and so re-playability is a key element of the gamebook. And if the Kickstarter hits all its stretch goals, you will also be able to play as the heroic hunter Tiger Lily or the notorious pirate Captain James Hook himself.
How would you explain NEVERLAND – Here Be Monsters! to an elderly relative?
Do you remember King Kong? Do you remember the Skull Island, where he lived? Well imagine that Skull Island and Peter Pan’s Neverland were actually the same place. And then imagine being able to influence the course of the story, rather than just being a passive reader, by taking on the role of one of the characters from Barrie’s book. And that, in a nutshell, is NEVERLAND – Here Be Monsters!
Why mash-up Barrie with Doyle?
Why not? But in all seriousness, I suppose it really began after my first ACE Gamebook, Alice’s Nightmare in Wonderland, was published. It was well received and people asked if I was going to write a sequel, but I had already included Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There in the first gamebook and so I needed to look elsewhere.
The next logical step, for me at least, was to give The Wonderful Wizard of Oz the Alice’s Nightmare in Wonderland treatment, and so The Wicked Wizard of Oz was born. In Alice’s Nightmare, the reader guides Alice through a nightmarish version of Wonderland, but in Oz the reader takes on the role of one of the characters from Baum’s original, each with their own abilities and different encounters in the adventure. NEVERLAND – Here Be Monsters! continues this theme.
But I had also wanted to write a gamebook inspired by King Kong for a long time, and also had another idea featuring pirates (a subject my gamebooks have experimented with before) and it just seemed to make sense to combine them with Peter Pan. After all, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Barrie’s original, and everything’s better with dinosaurs. Right?
The last fact, which just seemed to make the mash-up too good to be true, is that the novel Peter Pan and Wendy was published in 1911 and just a year later Doyle’s The Lost World was released.
What is it about Peter Pan that we keep coming back to?
It’s a classic of children’s literature and Disney’s 1953 animated interpretation of it means that many people have been exposed to the most well-known elements of the story without necessarily having read the story themselves. On top of that, it has enjoyed many stage adaptations and has become a staple of the pantomime circuit. And of course, children love to dress up and play as pirates, which is a vital element of the Peter Pan mythos, if that’s not too big a word for a rather twee 20th Century fairy-tale.
Doesn’t Pan have quite dark origins?
The primary theme of Peter Pan is the conflict between the innocence of childhood and the responsibility of adulthood. There’s also a puckish quality to Peter and other aspects of his character make him more pagan nature spirit than carelessly-abandoned human child left to be brought up by fairies. And then there’s also the rather uncomfortable romantic element, which many adaptations probably wisely choose to admit, with Wendy's flirtatious desire to kiss Peter, Peter’s desire for a mother figure, and his conflicting feelings for Wendy, Tiger Lily, and Tinker Bell, each of whom represents a different female archetypes. And then there’s the symbolism of Peter’s fight with Captain Hook, who in stage productions is traditionally played by the same actor as Wendy's father. I’m sure Freud would have a field day!
Why The Lost World?
Well, as already mentioned, there’s the fact that it was published a year after the novel Peter Pan and Wendy, and it has dinosaurs in it, but it also has the Accala tribe who I have chosen to replace Barrie’s Picaninny tribe who have become horribly culturally dated (never mind the fact that they were a racial slur in the first place).
How does NEVERLAND – Here Be Monsters! compare to The Wicked Wizard of Oz or Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland?
The three books form a loose trilogy but each one is a progression from the last. Alice introduced the ACE Gamebooks concept and rules set, Oz added the option of playing the adventure as different characters with different abilities, and NEVERLAND will introduce companions to the mix.
What hasn’t changed is Kev Crossley fantastic artwork, which will ultimately adorn all three books in the series, helping to give them a unifying look.
Why is traditional gaming making such a comeback?
I think it’s the same reason why café culture is so popular at the moment; people have gone online and discovered all it has to offer, but have always realised that there’s nothing quite like actual face to face human contact. The tactile experience shouldn’t be forgotten; there’s something very satisfying about opening a box of game components, are painting a miniature, or feeling the weight of an actual book in your hand and taking in the heady scent that comes from the printed page.
It’s a great way of taking pre-orders and raising the funds for artwork. And by artwork, I mean quality hand-drawn art as opposed to regurgitated digital art with the cut and paste function being used far too readily. It’s strange that digital art, particularly black and white or grayscale digital art, can end up feeling flatter than hand-shaded pen and ink work, when, in theory at least, the opposite should be true.
How does this compare to your work on the Fighting Fantasy series?
My work on NEVERLAND – Here Be Monsters! and the rest of the ACE Gamebooks has grown out of the work I did for the Fighting Fantasy series. Through writing FF gamebooks I learnt what makes a good gamebook, in terms of game design as well as quality of writing. However, the ACE Gamebooks let me try things that I wouldn’t be able to do with a conventional FF adventure and help demonstrate how far the gamebook medium can be taken.
People who enjoyed my later FF titles, particularly Howl of the Werewolf and Night of the Necromancer, can expect the same sort of action-packed adventures from my ACE Gamebooks, and NEVERLAND – Here Be Monsters! especially. After all, it could equally be subtitled Pirates Vs Dinosaurs!
What’s happening next with the Fighting Fantasy books?
Next April, or thereabouts, Scholastic is going to release another six titles, Steve Jackson’s Creature of Havoc, Appointment with F.E.A.R., and Sorcery! book 1: The Shamutanti Hills, Ian Livingstone’s Deathtrap Dungeon and Island of the Lizard King, and Charlie Higson’s brand-new The Gates of Death. As Charlie is new to writing gamebooks, despite being a fantastic and established author, I have been giving him a hand with the gamebook mechanics side of things.
Will we see more YOU ARE THE HERO?
I actually have two more titles in the series tentatively planned. One would be a continuation of the history of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, to be published around the time of the series’ 40th anniversary in 2022, and the other would be a history of other gamebook series, such as Lone Wolf, Fabled Lands and Destiny Quest.
What franchise series would you love to write for next?
I would love to write something for Stranger Things, but I have long held a desire to write for Batman. In fact, I would love to write a Batman adventure gamebook. I would cram it chock-full of my favourite Batman villains, such as Killer Croc, Solomon Grundy and Clayface.
I’m actually writing a short story at the moment that I hope will become part of an ongoing series and I have various other short stories to write for other people. I may be editing another anthology next year and am also working on ideas for a new novel.
In terms of gamebooks, after NEVERLAND – Here Be Monsters! I would like to get my teeth into Beowulf Beastslayer, which has been on my To Do list for the last four years. Where can we found out more about your work?