By J.M. Barrie
Barnes & Noble Classics
My mom once told me that as a child I wouldn’t sleep until she read me Peter Pan. It usually took three or four reads since I was a child who didn’t care much for sleep. My mom had the story memorized and said if she turned the page too early, I would stop her to let her know she wasn’t done with the page yet. Apparently, I also had the story memorized. 🙂 The version I was read while tucked snuggly in bed was not this version but rather an illustrated book probably courtesy of Disney. Whatever version of the book I was read as a child, this one held true for me and every bit of it was fantastic.
Peter Pan is a young boy who simply refuses to grow up. He lives in Neverland with the Lost Boys, the Piccaninny tribe, the mermaids, pirates, a ticking crocodile, and of course, Hook. Peter is the captain of the boys and they do whatever he tells them to. One night, he meets Wendy and her two brothers, Michael and John, and takes them all away to Neverland to share in his adventures.
One thing I noticed about the book was the violence. There’s open talk of killing Hook, Peter is not shy about telling anyone that he cut off his hand, and that he plans to finish him. While no one says what happens to the Lost Boys that get too old, one doesn’t have to look very far for the reason for their disappearance. Peter is extraordinarily arrogant (Maybe that’s not the right word for describing a child; cocky?) and nothing happens without his say. Even when danger lurks, not one of the Lost Boys questions his authority even when they are told to kill the pirates. That astounded me and made me happy to see that Barrie didn’t dumb this story down. Bad things happen in life and he brought it down to a level that was understandable for a child. As an adult, I obviously have a different view but was interested in the way he portrayed Peter and the fact that even though he was just a boy, he was a boy with responsibilities for others even if he didn’t think much about it in those terms. Well, at least until he brought in Wendy to be the mother which solved some of his responsibility issues.
Wendy is playing the mother of the Lost Boys and Peter is somewhat the father as Wendy does say to him often how wonderful their boys are. It’s slightly odd but I overlooked my wiggly feeling about it. The boys so badly want someone to love them, and when Wendy comes along, they cling to her like no one else. It’s almost sad how starved they are for love and attention. She delights in telling them stories of her parents and tests them frequently so her brothers will remember.
Most of all, this story is all whimsy. It’s beautifully told with an almost poetic quality to it at times. It can be harsh and it can be so simple in the way it describes the games the children play. It’s both amusing and sad reading it as an adult.
I did a few Google searches to find out more about Barrie and it turns out the idea for Peter Pan is based on a brother who died in childhood. In his mother’s eyes, his brother always remained 14 years old, the age at which he died. That made me so very sad but if this was the way he finally managed to immortalize his brother, it’s a wonderful tribute.
I wondered how I would feel about this story as an adult and I can honestly say that for me, it will always be a favorite. It’s magical and I’m glad I got around to reading it again. I had a whole new perspective as an adult and it gave me a greater appreciation for the story. I do wonder what my mom would think of it now though…
6 thoughts on “Peter Pan”
Have you ever seen the original play of Peter Pan, given that you enjoy the story so much?
No. I haven’t seen the play. I’m more a book person than a theater person.
I loved this book when I was little too. I had a special copy with gorgeous color illustrations. But my parents wouldn’t let us watch the Disney film, so to this day I have only the faintest notion of what goes on in that film. I do remember some fairly racist portrayals of the Indians.
Ooo, illustrations you say…now you’ve got me craving a new copy of Peter Pan.
Oh, yes, it’s full of whimsy. And wit. Barrie sure had a mastery over both sides of the coin, as it were – adulthood and childhood. It works on both levels at the same time. And yeah, it does get pretty violent. [How about the Boys’ shining the lantern in the pirates’ eyes so the other can run them through? :S :)] That’s a good point, though, that it’s NOT “dumbed down.” It’s all so much darker and more bittersweet than one might first suppose. Hooray for Barrie’s work!
Be sure to read these two books… they’re the only ‘other’ Pan books worth their salt.
A story based on Barrie’s own idea for more:
And a great ‘What if?’ adventure (but it’s not for the kids!): Click!
I can’t remember when I first read this book, but it’s held up to many re-reads, even as an adult. It’s so charming even with the violence and all. I like it so much better than the disney version.