The bestselling young adult novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs turns 10 years old this month. This visual storytelling masterpiece has always been difficult to define, genre-wise. It takes place in our world, but a version of our world where certain people are “peculiar.” They can do impossible things like float, or breathe fire, or bring people back from death. It is a world where certain days repeat over and over again, trapping people in a loop. In that way, the novel feels historical because it takes place primarily in the past. However, our main character, Jacob, is from the present.
The market defines it as fantasy, but it is missing a magic system and fairies and dragons and many of the other elements we expect from fantasy. It technically fits the definition, but it also bends genre and thus feels very innovative in how it leads us into a whole new world. In fact, I would argue that Miss Peregrine’s signals a return to a classic genre: the exploration narrative.
Throughout history, humankind has had the desire to travel to, and often conquer, new lands. They were very popular in Britain from the 1400 to 1800s, with famous explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh. America in the 1800s had its own influx of these because of the California Gold Rush and pioneer families like the Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. With that said, these exploration narratives are tangled with the ugliness of colonialism and imperialism. This deserves to be analyzed and discussed. Although I am focusing on the fundamental spirit of adventure within all of us, these aspects of exploration should not be dismissed.
When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. My books are practically falling apart from being reread constantly. My family lives in Northern California, and I visited many Gold Rush towns on school field trips, where I devoured all the stories. I wanted to go out on adventures, but I didn’t just want to travel the world. I wanted to visit new parts of it. I wanted to go where no one else had gone before. Yet I knew I was destined to be disappointed—most of the world had already been discovered.
At the beginning of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob feels the exact same discontentment. He hates his lonely, miserable life in Florida. He just can’t shake the feeling that the world holds more for him, but he isn’t sure what that is. He thinks to himself, “I’d been born in the wrong century, and I felt cheated.”
I identified with him right away, but the truth for Jacob is that there is a whole new world for him to discover—the world of peculiardom. He sets out on an epic quest to Wales, where he first stumbles upon a loop and meets some peculiars. When a hollow attacks, they must go on the run.
Throughout the series, they travel throughout Europe, jumping from loop to loop, time period to time period. Along the way, he meets many different peculiars, people who have been shunned from normal society, and learns that he is peculiar as well. He discovers that the world is a richer, more beautiful place than he imagined because the peculiars are in it. Powerfully, he says, “Peculiarness isn’t a deficiency, but an abundance; it wasn’t we who lacked something normals had, but they who lacked peculiarities. That we were more, not less.”
Riggs’ novel is lauded for its creative use of vintage photographs, and that is an amazing feat. For me, though, this story has always been so precious because it speaks to my soul. It tells about a young, restless boy who must uncover an entirely new part of his world to find somewhere he belongs. It is a deeply human story, tapping a primal, painful part of ourselves. Ten years later, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children holds a special place in my heart, and I hope it does in yours too.