Hook, line, and sinker

Well, I had no idea so many of you would respond to a post on Peter Pan. Since many of you had comments, I thought the easiest way to respond would be another post.

The History of Peter Pan

Peter originally appeared as a minor character in another of Barrie's works, The White Bird. His original home was in a five pound note that the poet Shelley dropped in a pond in Kensington Gardens. However, Peter proved to be quite popular, and Barrie wrote an entire play for him. Finally, Barrie wrote a novelization of the play. Unlike other novelizations, Barrie's version is quite nuanced and adds many dimensions not in the theatrical work.

Barrie and His Connection to Peter Pan

Like his hero, Barrie was rather small and always looked quite young. Barrie, despite demonstrating intellectual prowess, always maintained an interest in children's games and stories. Some scholars believe that Pan is a stand in for Barrie. Pan's desolation at the loss of Wendy and the Lost Boys can be read as Barrie's sadness when his beloved child playmates (particularly the Davies children) grew up and rejected childish past times.

However, Barrie had a brother who died in a skating accident. Some scholars believe that Pan's "frozen" state and his home beneath ground (a cave)indicate that Pan is really a fictionalized version of Barrie's dead brother David. The brother who died was the "favorite" in the family. Barrie apparently felt when this brother died, it was his duty to take over the role of favorite to the extent of wearing the dead boy's clothing. (Pan wears Hook's clothing after disposing of him.)

The most compelling connections between the author and the characters in the text is Barrie and Hook. Hook and Barrie share the same first name, James. Hook's desire for a mother and his longing to be loved by children, but his inability to be loved may represent both Barrie's desires and how he thought those desires to be perceived by others (perverted and monsterous).

Peter Pan and Sexuality

Peter is completely asexual in the text. When he first meets Wendy, she offers him a kiss. Genuinely oblivious, Pan asks Wendy what a kiss is. (Wendy hands him a button and tells him it is a kiss.) It is precisely Pan's inaccessibility that arouses women. Later, after pretending to be mother and father (the Lost Boys urge Peter and Wendy to dance-Peter's response is "People of our figure, Wendy" to which Wendy responds it is socially acceptable to dance as long as only the "family" is witness to it), Wendy asks Peter how he feels about her. Peter responds, "As a son, of course." Wendy is disappointed, and Peter continues, "Tiger Lily wants to be something to me. Not a mother, and I can't understand it." Peter quite literally can not conceive of a sexual relationship. (It is this disappointment that initiates Wendy's decision to leave Neverland and return to her parents. This decision also represents her rejection of Peter's "faux" family, and her decision to pursue traditional development including marriage and children.)

Barrie himself did marry, but there is evidence to suggest that the marriage was never consummated. According to one biography by Janet Dunbar, Barrie told his wife "Boys can't love." Eventually the couple divorced when Barrie's wife initiated an affair. Wendy's "abandonment" of the faux family of the Lost Boys for the comfort of a "real" husband could be a symbolic exploration of the failed relationship. Wendy's sadness at seeing her daughter supplant her in Peter's affection could be representative of Barrie's wife. Although she did, like Wendy, love her husband, she was ultimately unable to accept the sacrifices such a relationship would require. In the text Peter laments when he sees that Wendy has grown up, "You promised you wouldn't." This promise can also be seen as a wedding vow. Wendy's response, "I tried," might echo the torment Barrie's wife might have experienced attempting to love a "man" who can only "play" at being a husband.

Second Star on the Right and Straight On Till Morning

There is a film called Neverland ( starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet), which will be coming out in the fall, that will supposedly portray Barrie and how he developed Pan.

For more information about Barrie, check out this biography or visit the J.M. Barrie Society. If you do decide to buy (or borrow) Pan, make sure you get an unabridged edition.

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