Ransom Riggs’s novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2011) follows a sixteen-year-old narrator as he investigates his grandfather’s very strange past. Jacob has always been fascinated by his grandfather’s stories even though he often had trouble believing they were true. But as he was growing up, Jacob found his Grandpa Portman to be the most fascinating person in his life. Jacob hoped to be just like his grandfather, who had fought in wars, explored the world, worked in circuses, and spoke several different languages. When Jacob was still a young boy, he told his grandfather that when he grew up, he wanted to be an explorer. His grandfather liked that idea and encouraged Jacob’s dream by helping him study maps and imagine trips he might one day take.
But as Jacob began to reach his teenage years, he became disappointed; he realized that many, if not most, of his grandfather’s stories were possibly untrue. Some of the most fantastic tales concerned the orphanage in Wales in which Grandpa Portman was raised. According to his grandfather, the place was protected by a wise hawk who disallowed monsters, sickness, or death to enter.
The children who lived in the orphanage were peculiar, Grandpa said. There was a girl who could fly, a boy in whom bees lived, and two young children who could lift boulders over their heads as if they were made of paper. When Jacob told his grandfather that he was having trouble believing his stories, Grandpa Portman produced photographs of the children. Jacob thought the photos might be fake, but he believed his grandfather just as other boys his age believed in Santa Claus. Jacob believed his grandfather because he wanted to believe.
Jacob’s father once told him that Grandpa Portman’s stories were not exactly lies. He explained that his father had lived in Poland during World War II and had been sent away to escape the Nazis. Grandpa Portman was the only...
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After his grandfather’s death, Jacob has recurring nightmares. While Jacob was holding his grandfather in his arms after finding him in the woods, he heard a noise, looked up, and saw a face. It looked like nothing less than a monster, with piercing eyes and multiple tongues protruding from its mouth. Ricky did not see it, but he shot at it with his BB gun. That image, the face of that monster, now appears to Jacob every time he falls asleep—and he wakes up screaming.
Jacob’s parents take him to Dr. Golan, a psychiatrist. Eventually Jacob tells the doctor everything he saw and heard the day his grandfather died. Jacob not only describes the monster, he also recalls every word his grandfather said. Among other things, his grandfather mentioned the name Emerson and something about a letter. Dr. Golan tells Jacob to go to the library and find Ralph Waldo Emerson’s published letters. There could possibly be a clue there. Jacob studies Emerson’s letter but finds no clues to his grandfather’s death or his final message.
When Jacob’s father and aunt go to clean out Grandpa Portman’s house, they take Jacob with them. Dr. Golan thinks it a good idea for Jacob to accompany them. If Jacob can confront the scene of that terrible night, it might help him get over the terror of his memories. Dr. Golan has convinced Jacob that what he suffers from is an over-reaction to trauma. The so-called monster he thought he saw might have only been a figment of his over-stimulated imagination.
Jacob searches his grandfather’s bedroom, looking for clues that might help him understand his grandfather’s last words. He finds more photographs of strange but obviously manipulated images. There is a picture of a young girl superimposed on a bottle so it looks like she is trapped inside. In another photo, a young baby appears to be levitating, but it is obvious that she is swinging from a rope.
Later, to lift Jacob’s...
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After flying across the Atlantic, Jacob and his father arrive on Cairnholm Island via a ferryboat. As they near the shore, Jason looks down into the transparent water and sees capsized boats. A man tells him that the waters around the island are filled with shipwrecks. Many of them date back to World War II; German U-boats brought them down.
When the ferryboat docks, Jacob helps his father carry their suitcases into the small village. They look for the place called Priest Hole, where Jacob’s father had reserved a room. When they find the place, they discover it is only a rundown saloon that has one room to let. The room is shabby, and they are warned that the plumbing and heat sometimes do not work. When they order food, they learn that the cook only knows how to fix food that is fried, even their toast for breakfast.
The next day, Jacob’s dad becomes mesmerized by a flock of sea birds that are feeding from tidal pools. He tells Jacob that he would like to spend some time watching them. This leaves Jacob to find the orphanage on his own. His father allows Jacob to explore the island as long as he finds a guide who will go with him.
So Jacob sets off in search of a local person who knows about the orphanage. The only people who are willing to take him are two boys about his own age. They attempt to trick him by taking him along a muddy path and showing him an old building that they identify as the orphanage. They tell Jacob to go in by himself, which he reluctantly does, only to find out that the building is actually a stable for sheep. Jacob almost steps onto the floor, which is ankle deep in manure.
When Jacob convinces the boys that he is serious about finding the old orphanage, they point out the direction but refuse to take Jacob there. If he wants to investigate it, he will have to do so on his own, they tell him. Then they turn around and walk back to the village.
Once he is alone, Jacob...
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Jacob returns to the pub to find his father sitting at a table, eating his dinner. The teen tells his father about his exploration of the old orphanage. They begin to discuss Grandpa Portman; both father and son recall their own memories of the old man. Jacob asks his father about his relationship with Grandpa Portman. Jacob’s father responds that Grandpa Portman was not a good father. He traveled a lot and was seldom home. When he was home, he seldom opened up emotionally. Once when Grandpa Portman was gone, Jacob’s grandmother found a letter from a woman addressed to Grandpa Portman. In the letter, the woman wrote that she missed and loved Grandpa Portman. Jacob’s father assumed that his father was having an extramarital affair, possibly several of them. Jacob’s father also says that Grandpa Portman never took an interest in children until Jacob was born. It was as if Jacob received all the love Grandpa Portman had to give.
Jacob feels upset by what his father tells him. His vision of his grandfather has been marred by the news that he might have been an unfaithful husband. Jacob does not want to believe his grandfather was less than the adoring man he had known.
To sort out his thoughts, Jacob goes for a walk. He needs to find someone who knows more about his grandfather’s history. He walks to the old church he saw earlier in the day. The church has been transformed into a small museum of local history. Once inside, he looks around. The museum appears to be empty; Jacob sees neither visitors nor a curator. He is drawn to a special case sitting under spotlights. When he walks over and peers inside, he thinks he has seen an image from his nightmares. It is a face that is somewhat shriveled, the skin blackened by age. He jumps back, then he moves forward again to take another look.
Just then he hears a man’s voice coming from behind him. The man introduces himself as Martin Pagett, the curator. He tells Jacob...
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When Jacob leaves for the orphanage the next morning, it is raining. The weather worsens as he nears the house, and by the time he steps inside he is soaking wet. He tries to shake some of the water off but is not very successful, so he turns his attention to his task. He must find clues concerning his grandfather’s life there at the strange school.
He searches the downstairs and finds nothing interesting, so he decides he must take the stairs. There are two sets of stairs—one goes up and one goes down to a basement. He decides to take the first staircase and ends up in a series of rooms that are musky and ravaged with dust and debris but otherwise appear as they might have looked when his grandfather lived there....
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Jacob continues on his way with Emma and Millard, thinking that any moment he is going to wake up from a dream. Finally the orphanage comes into view, but it looks nothing like it did when he visited the place on his own. The roof is intact. There are no tree limbs growing out of the windows. It looks beautiful. They walk up the solid steps that lead to the porch. Emma and Millard want to take Jacob to meet the headmistress.
While Jacob waits for the meeting, he looks out the window and watches the children in the yard. He is surprised when he sees one of the girls floating in the air; she has a rope tied around her waist, and two boys hold the end of it to keep her anchored. Jacob turns to Millard and asks why...
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The next morning, Jacob enters the cairn and then exits into 1940. Emma is waiting for him. She encourages him to hurry because she wants him to see something. When they reach the orphanage, Emma takes him to the backyard, where a stage has been set up. Everyone is happy to see Jacob. Once he sits down, the show begins.
Several of the residents take turns going up on stage, showing off their skills. The show begins with Miss Peregrine, who changes her shape from a falcon to a human in front of the audience. The same young girl Jacob noticed the day before levitates high above the stage. Another girl lifts a bolder. As Jacob watches, Emma tells him that they used to put on a show like this for normal people. Jacob is...
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Jacob leaves his room before his father awakens. He does not want to have to explain where he is going or be interrogated about his sunburn again. When he arrives at the orphanage, Miss Peregrine calls him into her office. At the dinner table the previous night, she heard the children talking about the advanced technological gadgets of the future Jacob mentioned to them. She does not believe it is good for the mental health of her students to dream about things they will never see, so she tells Jacob not to be so specific about his life when he is with the younger children. If they start wanting to leave the island and the time loop they are in, the children’s true physical ages would quickly catch up with them, and in a matter...
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After Emma tells Jacob that his grandfather’s peculiarity was that he could see the monsters, Jacob confesses that he, too, can see them. Emma says she knew he had a gift even though she did not know what it was. The reason she knew he must be special is that common humans cannot enter a time loop as Jacob has been able to do.
Emma’s and Jacob’s evening alone is shattered when two of the older children appear. They are out of breath from running and insist that Emma and Jacob follow them back to the orphanage. Once they are inside the home, they find Miss Peregrine taking care of an older woman who appears to be in shock. Jacob recognizes the woman as Miss Avocet, Miss Peregrine’s teacher.
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Time is running out for Jacob to choose between going home with his father or staying in the time loop of 1940 with Miss Peregrine and her peculiar students. His time on the island will come to an end when his father leaves in five days.
In the midst of Jacob’s decision making, the museum curator, Martin, goes missing. Some fishermen find his body, which looks like it might have been thrown off the cliff into the water. When they pull the body out, they see gaps in his flesh as if perhaps some large fish had been eating it. There are many speculations as to what might have happened. Most of the villagers want to believe that Martin got drunk and simply slipped off the cliff. But they cannot overlook the fact that...
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With Miss Peregrine still in bird form, the children walk back to the orphanage. As they get closer, they smell smoke. Something is wrong. The Nazi planes have passed over and the bombs have been dropped, but unlike all the other times, the house has not been spared. The time loop is not right. Miss Peregrine has not been able to reset it as she had done all the other times this day was repeated.
The children discuss their options about what to do next. They could stay and attempt to rebuild the house and resume life as closely as they could to what it had been before the invasion of the wight and the monster, but this would not solve the problem of Miss Peregrine’s not being able to turn back into her human form....
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