Peregrine Hazard, in the novel Wise Children, is presented in ways that still leave question-marks over him. The novel is written from the point of view of an aging Dora Chance, his niece, and there are doubts as to the reliability of her narrative. In many ways, one feels one can trust her (even though it is a work of fiction), because she is so open and omits nothing- for an example, the presentation of the character of Tiffany is not sugar-coated at all, even with all the love Dora has for her. But in many other ways, there are large gaps in the story, and, particularly with the character of Peregrine, she doesn’t give the whole story. The reason this is so is, Peregrine seldom gives her, or indeed anybody, his story, and a storyteller can only tell as much as she knows, never any more. Peregrine Hazard is always surrounded by a peculiar air of mystery.
The story of Wise Children is woven around the filming of the screen adaptation of A Midsummer Nights’ Dream in Hollywood. And Peregrine is very much akin to Hollywood. He is larger-than-life, and has wild adventures (or so he claims), and is very much glittery, tinselly and magical.
Peregrine had many careers over his life, and didn’t stick to just one vocation- in the first chapter, Dora describes him as ‘adventurer, magician, seducer, explorer, scriptwriter, rich man, poor man’ which all have a fairly mysterious nature about them. They are all rather vague, except, of course, for the specific ‘scriptwriter’ (he worked with Melchoir, his brother, on the script for ‘the Dream’).
One of his ‘careers’ is magician, and was actually described by Grandma Chance as a ‘bloody marvellous conjurer’- which he was. This was on the Chance twins’ thirteenth birthday, when they took a trip to Brighton for the day. His act was to make a spread of empty dishes vanish clean away. His first entrance was also accompanied by a conjuring trick. Not knowing how to address his two young nieces on their first meeting, he pulled a dove, seemingly out of nowhere.
All of Peregrine’s entrances were Hollywood and larger-than-life, not least his final one, on Melchoir’s (and, of course, also his own) hundredth birthday party. Before Melchoir even has a chance to cut his cake, he is interrupted by a loud banging on his big wooden door, which then flies open, revealing the figure of Peregrine, silhouetted against the sunlight, covered in butterflies, which storm the party, and he’s singing ‘thunder and lightning! Did yez think I was dead?’ And here he performs his greatest conjuring act of all- an act of resurrection. He doesn’t actually resurrect anybody, but when Tiffany was assumed dead, lying at the bottom of a river, the way it really ended was, Peregrine took her with him on his travels. And he brought her to the party in a trunk, as his final and greatest conjuring trick.
Other than the fact that Peregrine travelled a lot, there is not much we do know about him. He claims to have fought in Mexico with Ambrose Bierce, presenting a signed copy of ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ as proof of this (‘in sole confirmation’, as Dora says), but we don’t know. We don’t know whether he did actually strike gold in Alaska. ‘(He) offered us a Chinese banquet of options as to what happened to him’. Some things we can only assume are true. But other things, we can know for sure.
There are not many things about Peregrine we can know. For a long time, he did play acting father to Dora and Nora, keeping them fed and clothed and sheltered and loved. He was their ‘sugar daddy’, in substitution of Melchoir. So, for a long time, Dora and Nora were confused about their father. Later on, when the Chance girls were in the twenties, Peregrine fathered a couple of girls of his own, Saskia and Imogen- though we are never actually sure they are really his children, nor are we sure until the very end of the novel, when Dora and Peregrine have cuddles (to be polite), that Peregrine wasn’t actually the Chance girls’ real father.
The name of Peregrine is also very apt, as it matches his character perfectly. ‘Pilgrim by name, pilgrim by nature’ as somebody old put it. It is physically impossible for Peregrine Hazard to stay put in one place- he must travel, he must move around. He is a nomad, and will simply up and leave a certain place on a whim. This is what to peregrinate means.
There is that very Hollywood quality about him, of razzle-dazzle, magic, and the mystery and illusion of the screen.
And, as I said earlier on, he is larger-than-life. When I said this, I meant in both senses- not only is Peregrine the life, heart and soul of any and every gathering, the big extrovert with the mysterious air and the huge, exaggerated entrances, he is also physically a giant. His body reflected his spirit- Dora commented on this, when he told her she hadn’t changed a bit, only she knew she had certainly changed since the last time they were together. She wondered whether Peregrine truly had remained this wild red-headed, powerful monster of a man, or was it simply the way she saw him, through her rose-tinted glasses of her love for him. Anyway, his body certainly reflect his spirit, as he was ‘as large as a polar bear’, ‘big as a warehouse, no, bigger’.
There is not really much we can know for certain about Peregrine Hazard. The only thing about which we can have any certainty is that he has a lot of love in his heart for a lot of people.
In Wise Children, Peregrine is presented as being Hollywood, personified, but, above his nature of razzle-dazzle, sparkle and glitter, there is more, some things which are implicit, some things which are explicit about him, such as his openness about his feelings, and a mysteriousness that follows him throughout the novel.