Dark Heroes: What Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Teaches Us About Good and Evil
When Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children came out, most of the reviews focused on the clever and interesting use of the vintage photographs. Multiple imitation books have emerged since, with varying success, and a visit to Amazon’s “recommended for you” page gives me several titles based on my love of the developing Peregrine series. However, as much as I like the vintage photos, they are not what propels my continuing interest in Ransom Riggs’ stories.
When I was thirteen, I discovered Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series, and fell in love. It remains one of the most important book series I have ever read because it is one of the few titles that has truly dark “good guys”. The heroes in Cooper’s stories might be on the side of righteousness and justice, but, as many of the characters surrounding them discover, hanging out with them and fighting with them can be seriously dangerous to your health and wellbeing.
The characters in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and its sequel Hollow City, similarly impress me with their ability to be “good guys” while at the same time being totally dark and flawed. I love the disagreeableness of Enoch and Horace, but Hollow City shows that even sweet bee-friend Hugh has a dangerous side.
More important than their basic personalities and character, however, is how their peculiarities impact those around them. Riggs does an amazing job here, showing that being different is hard, not just for the peculiar children, but also for their families. Jacob’s grandfather is cold and distant, unable to form a healthy relationship with his son, and this same problem is again repeated as Jacob discovers his own abilities. In most stories, this aspect of peculiarity (or of being a “hero” or otherwise named Good Guy) is passed over. In the Harry Potter series, for example, Hermione erases her parents memories, stealing their only child from them, with hardly a mention. Jacob, however, is aware of what his distance is doing to his family, even as he chooses to take action to fight against the evil that threatens both his friends and the world. He might know that he is taking the “right” course of action, but he carries with him the awareness that this choice is not without negative consequences for himself and those he loves and cares about.
Watching these themes play out in the first book, I was worried that they might not be further developed in Hollow City, but instead they were only more prominent in the second book. The children have an interesting encounter with some traveling gypsies that further explore the themes of how dangerous it can be to befriend a hero. Also their interactions with the peculiar young girl pictured on the cover are a truly dark look at the limitations of being exceptional, and how having super powers does not mean that you can save everyone, or even that you necessarily should try.
Creepy horrific bad guys, curious dark photographs: The Peculiar Children series already had enough darkness to find a home here on the Midnight Society. However it is truly Riggs’ awareness of the darkness of heroes that has captured my horrific attention and has me truly on edge for this series’ next installment.