The Changeling



A man returns to his old hometown and finds a boy who never grew up, who has also somehow displaced him.


  • This is set in the same town as Peace, Cassionville on the Kanakessee River. There is a reference to the main character of this story in Peace: "West of the town, in broader, quieter water, there is a long, stony island which used, at about the time I imagined myself visiting Dr. Van Ness, to harbor a hermit called Crazy Pete." (pp. 45-46, Berkley edition).
  • If Peter Palmieri is Peter Pan, where's Captain Hook? Not far away -- the narrator, Pete Palmer, has plenty of Hook imagery about him:
  1. "great, stone-beaked, hook-billed snapping turtle" which caught young chicks.
  2. "the iron jaw of the mailbox closed on them. Have you ever noted how eager it is to close when you have pulled out your hand?" This is like Hook's crocodile.
  3. "I was supposed to be helping a captain teach...". Captain Teach was Blackbeard.
  4. "my father could bend a big nail..". A hook is a bent nail.
  5. "a fat boy who was tongue-tied and laughed at everything." Disney's Mr. Smee.
  6. "buck teeth and freckles" one of Disney's lost boys, invited to become a pirate.
  7. "bossed and mothered us from the towering dignity of thirteen," In the musical the pirates wanted Wendy to be their mother, too.
  8. Pete hitchhiked, forming his hand into a hook shape.
  9. Captain Hook is known for his red cloth coat. Pete was a "red" turncoat who worked in textiles.
  10. He tied a rock to a frog, as Hook made victims walk the plank.
  11. He stabbed the frog with a broad blade, as Hook stabbed with his sword.
  12. The scout knife in PEACE had "an instrument for removing pebbles from the hooves of horses -- this last, I think is called a stonehook."
  13. "We meant to play pirates or something."
  14. "I was too tired to fence with them."

So narrator Pete represents Captain Hook. He ends up on Neverland island, along with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys; but alone in a cave, not fighting Peter. What's the symbolic meaning?

Papa Palmieri thought Peter would leave them when he could no longer be Mama's son. But at the end it says, "Papa was wrong. Peter still has the same last name as always and I guess now he always will, but the boys don't call him by it much." So Peter remained a Palmieri. How could this work? He could become the "son" of Maria. She would bear stigma in the eyes of the town for having a child out of wedlock, even though she was innocent. It looks like Peter is the Christ figure in this story, son of the virgin Maria.

There's an official sequel to the original Barrie novel called "Peter Pan in Scarlet," in which Peter is tempted to become like Hook after donning his scarlet coat. He defeats Hook by casting off the coat, nearly dying in the process. It was written much later than this story, but possibly Wolfe took an idea like that and used it as a symbol of redemption. Peter Pan does wear the coat at the end of the Disney movie.

That's why Peter starts off playing Vikings and pirates with the others. In Christian theology, Jesus took on the flesh and defeated sin on the cross. In this view, Peter Palmer is a repentant sinner. He comes back to the Church (Mama Church, Papa Pope, Apostle Paul, Maria, and Jesus). The record of his sin is wiped clean and Jesus takes his place. The old man (the old self) is dead and left in the cave tomb. That may be why when Larry Niven asked for an explanation of this story Wolfe simply said "The old man is dead." Pete is happy in this new life, and others who meet him "wish to God" they could be like him.

Paul's bet about throwing a stone to shore suggests the old Paul (Saul) who believed in salvation by works rather than faith. He believed he succeeded in throwing the stone when in fact he fell short.

Unresolved Questions

  • Why is Papa Palmieri the only person (besides the narrator) who knows Peter is not his real son?

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