A mysterious residential school on Britain’s Celtic fringes, with a shape-changing head teacher and a clientele of children with magical gifts? You may think you have heard all that before, but any similarities to the world of Harry Potter have proven no deterrent to the success of the American Ransom Riggs’ ongoing ‘Miss Peregrine’ fantasy series. The first book of (so far) three, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’, appeared in 2011, and the first film very recently in late 2016.
The idea of a small and beleaguered group of ‘peculiar’ children with preternatural abilities is not new: it reaches back not only to J.K. Rowling but also to a famous work of adult literature, Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’. Ransom Riggs’ exploration of the theme, however, is no mere copy: Miss Peregrine’s home and school are run by her alone, not by a fleet of wizarding teachers as at Rowling’s Hogwarts, and instead of Rowling’s Scotland or Rushdie’s India, the first book is located first in US suburbia and then on a remote island off the coast of Wales. Riggs also makes the original gesture of combining the magical theme with the science-fiction notion of a time warp.
In recent times we have had not only the Harry Potter books and films, but also the cinematic revival of earlier fantasy writers, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The fantasy genre, with its recurrent theme of the fight between good and evil, has become very much of our times, and, one may predict, is likely to remain so in the coming times too.