All children, except one, grow up.
I have had complaints that I don't write nearly enough about the books I read. Recently I had to buy a birthday present for a friend of mine and so I was in Barnes and Nobles (a dangerous outing) when I happened across a copy of Peter Pan
by J.M. Barrie.
A number of men recently have told me that they feel they are Peter Pan, and so I decided to read a few pages of it, just out of curiosity. I had seen Pan on Broadway with Sandy Duncan as a child, but remember hardly anything except the vaguest notions of a fairy and a ticking crocodile.
I was instantly enthralled. Pan is much darker than I imagined. In the beginning, Mr. Darling wonders whether it is financial feasible to keep each child. Michael, in particular, has the "narrowest squeak." (It is later implied that the Lost Boys are not really lost, but abandoned due to financial concerns.)
There is a great deal of age reversal in the text as Wendy is referred to early on as "every inch a woman, though there were not many inches." After she has become mother to the Lost Boys and introduced "civilization" to Neverland (interesting that the moment the children land, they set about making Neverland like the home they so willing left complete with medicine, bedtimes, and school work), Wendy claims while darning socks "'Oh dear, I am sure I sometimes think spinsters are to be envied.'" When the Lost Boys complain to Wendy about Peter, she is "far too loyal a housewife to listen to any complaints against father.'Father knows best,' she always said..." The Indian tribe refers to Peter as "the Great White Father", and Wendy is the mother ( Adam and Eve pre-fall?)Meanwhile, Mr Darling is shown to be quite childlike, throwing a tantrum about taking his medicine.
Peter is hardly the sweet natured hero I remembered. Early on Peter saves Michael from drowning but the text claims "you felt it was his cleverness that interested him and not the saving of human life...there was always the possibility that the next time you fell he would let you go."Later, when Wendy plans to depart from Neverland, Peter "breathed intentionally quick short breaths at the rate of about five to a second...every time you breathe, a grown up dies; and Peter was killing them off vindictively as fast as possible." In the epilogue, when Peter returns a year later to take Wendy for "spring cleaning" ( a reverse of Persephone and Hades) Peter does not even remember Tinker Bell and casually remarks to Wendy "There are such a lot of [fairies] I expect she is no more." In fact, the narrator comments in the epilogue, Peter is "gay and innocent and heartless."
There is even a question about what Peter really is. During the final battle, Hook, who thought Peter was "some fiend", suddenly is "assailed by darker suspicions." Hook asks Peter, "Pan, who and what are thou?" Hook realizes that "Peter did not know in the least who and what he was." Peter is also haunted by dreams, the worst of which occurs after the death of Hook. The dreams, the narrator claims, have to do with peters past and his identity, but the content is never revealed making peters identity even murkier.
Peter is also often confused with Hook. The first time Peter impersonates Hook's voice so well that when the real Hook arrives his pirate/subordinates doubt Hook's identity. Later when Peter is hiding in a cabin murdering pirates, a pirate comments that it might be a ghost in the form of Hook.After the death of Hook and the pirates, the boys dress as the pirates, and Peter wears an outfit made from Hook's "wickedest garments". Further, "It was whispered among them that on the first night he wore this suit he sat long in the cabin with Hook's cigar holder in his mouth and one hand clenched, all but the forefinger, which he bent and held threateningly aloft like a hook."
Hook himself is something of a tragic figure. Near the end, while the Lost Boys are in captivity, Hook laments "No little children to love me." And the whole murder of the Lost Boys is so that Wendy will be mother to Hook and his pirates. During his final battle with Peter, the narrator comments that Hook's fierce heart creaks. When Hook dies, the narrator comments, "James Hook, thou not wholly unheroic figure, farewell." In addition, Hook is not a coward and jumps into the mouth of crocodile willingly rather than dying by Peter's hand.
Death is no stranger to this child's tale for in the end Nana, Mrs. Darling, and Tinker Belle are dead. ( Notice mainly maternal figures suffer this fate.) Mrs. Darling is not only dead, but "dead and forgotten" as is apparently Tink. Peter also faces heartbreak in the form of being barred from forming any long term relationship. The conclusion of the story ( before the epilogue) has Peter watching the re-union of the Darlings. "He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred."
Take that Harry Potter.
Bad Bunni posted at 5/28/2004 03:58:00 PM