“Would you like to have an adventure now, or would you like to have your tea first?”
Most who hear the name Peter Pan first think of Disney’s portrayal of the boy from Neverland who never grew up. He was adventurous and heroic–the good guy. He was the main character, so why wouldn’t he be good?
I decided to read the original story after watching the movie Pan that was released Fall 2015. I was curious to see if perhaps any of the story about Pan and Hook meeting in the movie was in the book or just added. And so I picked up the book based on the original play by J. M. Barrie only to be shocked not by answers I didn’t find but rather by how much I didn’t like Peter Pan’s character.
You’ll enjoy this book if you enjoyed these:
Genre: Children’s fiction
Author: J. M. Barrie
Recommended for: Children or children at heart who love magic, pirates, and fairies. Also for anyone who loves to use their imagination and doesn’t take life too seriously.
Not recommended for: Adults–you know, the ones who grew up. They would find the book childish, silly, and absolute poppycock.
(taken from Goodreads)
Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, OM (9 May 1860 – 19 June 1937) was a Scottish author and dramatist. The child of a family of small-town weavers, he was educated in Scotland and moved to London, where he developed a career as a novelist and playwright. There he met the Llewelyn Davies boys who inspired him in writing about a baby boy who has magical adventures in Kensington Gardens (included in The Little White Bird), then to write Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, a “fairy play” about this ageless boy and an ordinary girl named Wendy who have adventures in the fantasy setting of Neverland. This play quickly overshadowed his previous work and although he continued to write successfully, it became his best-known work. Barrie unofficially adopted the Davies boys following the deaths of their parents. Before his death, he gave the rights to the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital, which continues to benefit from them.
“To die will be an awfully big adventure.”
If you’ve seen Disney’s Peter Pan, then you know the story. You know the story scene-by-scene anyways. But you don’t quite know Peter, whose true character is revealed in the book through sentences woven throughout those scenes, giving insight into Peter’s judgment and reasoning.
The book begins by introducing the Darling family. One night, Mrs. Darling drifts off to sleep in the children’s bedroom and is wakened by a draft in the room caused by the window left open by Peter Pan. The dog Nana (the children’s nanny) traps Pan’s shadow in the window. Deciding now is not the best time to worry Mr. Darling as well as with hopes of catching Pan, Mrs. Darling hides the shadow in a drawer to lure Pan back. That next night, Peter does return for his shadow, but the Darlings left the children at home alone with Nana to attend a party down the street. Wendy is the first to wake and discover Peter crying on the nursery floor, because he can’t succeed in reattaching his shadow with soap. This is the first instance Peter shows his childish character, first by his ignorance in thinking soap can fix the shadow and second by taking the credit for its reattachment. Once Wendy sews the shadow back on, Peter congratulates himself on his cleverness.
Rather than immediately return home, Peter stays in the nursery to lure Wendy to Neverland to be his and the lost boys’ mother. He tells her he ran away from home when he was a baby, because he hated hearing his parents talk about what he was going to be as a man when he grew up. To get her to come back with him, he then flatters her by complimenting girls on their intellect and entices her with the mention of fairies and mermaids (both creatures being very cruel in reality; both try to kill her). Wendy agrees and insists the boys come along too. They learn to fly and are off to the second star to the right and straight on till morning (probably at least a week) with the help of faith, trust, and pixie dust.
When they arrive in Neverland, the first to greet them is canon fire from the Jolly Roger. Wendy is led away by Tinker Bell to get to safety, but Tink flies ahead of her and tells the lost boys Peter wants them to shoot down the “wendy-bird.” They shoot her down, and she appears dead but has been saved by a trinket Peter gave her. The arrow struck it and not her heart. The lost boys accept Wendy as their mother, and they begin a life of make-believe and adventure. They visit Mermaid Lagoon, where they save Princess Tiger Lilly from the tide; Pan becomes the Chief of their “family;” and they chase after Indians to capture them for fun. But two problems arise: the pirates want to steal Wendy for themselves to be their mother, and the children (John, Michael, and Wendy) begin to lose touch with reality and can’t remember their real family. The two boys think Pan is their true father. Wendy becomes alarmed and convinces all the boys to want to return home, which upsets Peter Pan. While they are away, Pan goes to take his medicine as Wendy had instructed upon departing. When he goes to drink it, Tinker Bell rescues him by drinking the medicine herself; it had been poisoned by Captain Hook. Tink’s light goes out, but she is saved from death by sleeping children’s belief in fairies.
Meanwhile, the children are captured by Hook. For not agreeing to become part of the crew, the children will have to walk the plank. They are saved by Pan and then returned safely home to their beds as if they never left. Every year after, Pan returns to take Wendy back for spring cleaning. Then one night Peter comes in, and Wendy is much older. In fact, she is an adult with her own daughter Jane. Peter is horrified to discover Wendy has allowed herself to grow up, but she is happy as a grownup. So Pan returns for Jane and later for Jane’s daughter, and for all the generations to come so long as they are “gay and innocent and heartless.”
“Oh, the cleverness of me!”
My thoughts on the story:
I enjoyed reading this original telling of Peter pan, as it made me laugh a lot and smile. The book also provided numerous thought-provoking lines concerning life. Already this post is full of quotes, but I could easily add another twenty. If you won’t read the book, at least look up quotes from Peter Pan on Goodreads or Pinterest. They’ll make you think and reflect.
I can’t say that I really like Peter for sure anymore. The moral of the story seems to be that people do have to grow up eventually. If not, you’ll be childish like Peter who lives recklessly. On the long flight to Neverland, the children would fall asleep and stop flying. Peter would save them only at the last second, before they would have hit the ground. He would also forget about them easily and leave them behind, until he passed them again and was reminded of who they were. He also kills without thought, believes his way is the only way, tells half-truths, and plays pretend even in serious situations (he had one of the boys pretend to be a doctor to save Wendy rather than actually try to do something to save her). He’s just as awful as Tinker Bell who acts on jealousy and had the boys shoot Wendy out of the sky.
“It was then that Hook bit him.
Not the pain of this but its unfairness was what dazed Peter. It made him quite helpless. He could only stare, horrified. Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly. All he thinks he has a right to when he comes to you to be yours is fairness. After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but he will never afterwards be quite the same boy. No one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter.”
― J.M. Barrie,
I think the best way to describe Peter is as a mixture between the lighthearted versions of the story like Disney’s version and the darker one of the show Once Upon a Time. What I love about OUAT is that it portrays Peter’s darker traits stemming from selfishness. On OUAT, all of his villainous actions are due to his need to stay alive. He thinks of himself first. That’s his problem. All those character traits OUAT displayed are evident in the Peter Pan of the play. The difference between the two Pans is the circumstance. After seeing Peter lure Wendy to Neverland with half-truths, it’s no surprise he lured Henry Mills to offer his heart to him using the same methods. Peter isn’t all bad, but he isn’t all good either. He is whatever his circumstances lead him to be.
“And thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.”
― J.M. Barrie,
Aside from Pan’s character, the book was still a great read. I’m giving it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. The story was well-written, clever, and inspiring.
If you liked the book or didn’t like the book, comment your thoughts below. Let us know your reaction to Peter and if you think he’s the hero or not.
Come back next Tuesday for an interview with Karen Tomlinson, a y/a fantasy fiction writer who will tell us about her journey self-publishing her first novel. Hope to see you here!