We all know the story of Peter Pan. He’s the Boy-Who-Never-Grew-Up. He is as cocky as a rooster, and crows just the same. He flies, he is mischievous, he’s self-centered– but really he just wants to have fun. I picked up Peter and Wendy as part of my Kids Lit Book Club. While this is the 3rd book in the Peter Pan series* (*Word used loosely here), this is the book we have seen on stage and screen repeatedly. A truly enchanting tale to read, I am so glad I read this book.
You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.
Growing up, I knew Peter Pan as the red-headed boy from the Disney animated film first. Then as Mary Martin when I finally saw the musical. And lastly, as Robin Williams in Hook. Each of these films told the story of Peter in a different fashion, and after reading Peter and Wendy I can say the majority of all of these renditions are true to the book. More renditions have been created since thing, and I’m certain more will still be created in the future. And yet, perhaps surprisingly, Peter and Wendy is the novelization of J.M. Barrie’s 1904 stage play, Peter Pan; of The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up.
Almost a collection of chronological short stories, Peter and Wendy tells the story of when the Darling children flew off to Neverland with Peter Pan. They spent quite a long time there (it is never disclosed in the novel) playing house, hunting with the Indians, playing outdoors, splashing in the lagoon, and hunting pirates. Narrated by J.M. Barrie himself, in a very forward and dramatic fashion, we learn about what could have happened to the children along with what did. We meet Tiger Lily and her tribe, Tootles and the Lost Boys, Tinkerbell, and of course, Captain Hook and his Pirates.
Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you sacrifice everything else for it.
The most fascinating character to me is (obviously) Peter himself. Peter is perpetually a child. He does whatever he wants to when he wants to.He has little regard for the feelings and needs of others, just like a proper child. This makes him come across as incredibly arrogant and cocky. Despite the joy and innocence of childhood, he also has a darker side to the reader. Peter doesn’t value life since he doesn’t comprehend it. Also, like a child, his memory is fairly limited– usually to what is in front of him. This means he forgets so much; adventures, people, stories, etc. Peter has no real strong ties to any people. This self-confidence and willingness to find fun in everything draws people to him. And yet they only get hurt by his inability to return their feelings or connections.
The story of Peter and Wendy is much more powerful when you better understand Peter’s origin as a character. You see, J.M. Barrie’s older brother died in an ice-skating accident the day before his 14th birthday. In Mrs. Barrie’s mind, David never ended up growing up. In fact, as a 6-year-old when his brother died, J. M. tried to assume David’s place. He wore his brother’s clothes and adopted his mannerisms. But, J.M. was never able to heal his mother’s heart. This scarred him forever.
To die will be an awfully big adventure.
J.M. Barrie grew up loving children. It’s said that he connected better to children than to adults because he never grew up either. He was close to a family with young boys, and when the parents passed away J.M. Barrie took guardianship of the children. When he died in 1937, the copyright of Peter Pan passed from his estate to the Royal Children’s Hospital in London. To this day, they still benefit from the royalties.
Despite fascinating character development (a weakness for me), I loved the idea of this book and what it represents more than the content itself. Partially this is due to Barrie’s sometimes tedious narration. Partially due to the fact that I already knew everything that was going to happen. Partially due to the sad fact that I have grown up.
Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.
The sensibilities of this story come from the later 1800’s. Wendy just wants to play house as the mother all the time. She adores staying up late and alone darning socks and pestering the children. She has no other aspirations. Tiger Lily and her tribe are referred to as “Redskins” and speak with “ugha”s and “me wanna”s. And finally, the boys are actively trying to kill the pirates. This book was more violent than I expected. I wanted to let go of my modern sensibilities in order to better enjoy the story, but I couldn’t. Sad Jackie.
In the end, this story is brimming with youthful innocence and happiness. If you haven’t read it, I certainly recommend it. Just be prepared to accept the fact that it’s a bit dated in sensibilities. If you can let that go, it really is a fantastic world to get lost in.
What do you think?
- Have you read any of the Peter Pan books? What do you think of them?
- Have you seen any of the other adaptions of Peter Pan? How do they compare?
- Who is your favorite character? Why?