Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book 103: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (Finished).

"Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it."

Growing up, I was obsessed with Disney movies (still am). And while Peter Pan wasn't my favorite, I still really enjoyed the adventure of it, the scope. It would be fun to live on an island and never grow up!

So going into Peter Pan, I felt like I knew the story pretty well. And I did. Many of the scenes were similar between book and movie and I found myself having fun reading the story. It was very much a children's tale and I was wholly entertained by it. It was fun to see the Darlings on paper as opposed to their animated selves.

The novel is short, and I read it in one sitting. It had me chuckling at many parts, mainly because it seemed a little silly. After all, it was supposed to be fun.

It was only after I finished it, and discussed it with a friend at work, that I began to look past the "childlike" aspect of the story. I mean, sure it was fun and rip-roaring and the children had fun adventures, but there is a much deeper message beneath it all about youth, growing up, and maturing.

The children in the novel almost seem selfish (I believe I told my friend Sarah that Peter was a bit of a tool), but they are children. I know I was selfish as a child, so these children aren't any different. But, you can see the different in the children as they continue to interact throughout the story. The boys, Michael and John, are slightly more immature than Wendy, most likely due to age. You can see it in their interactions with the Lost Boys.

Wendy, however, is a different story. She is a girl on the verge of womanhood. Her mothering and nurturing instinct is because she knows that as humans, we all need to be taken care of in some way. That is why when she arrives at the island, the boys swarm her and insist on protecting her. They cherish her as their mother, their person to come to and lay out all their problems. But Wendy doesn't have anyone. Her few attempts to talk to Peter in a more mature manner just frustrate her (thus, why I called Peter a tool). But Peter is not ready to accept the responsibility and knowledge of getting older. In fact, he refuses. As far as he knows, no one has ever taken care of him. He rejects it completely.

This idea of growing up and accepting adulthood is what I believe drives Wendy back home. She knows that she really can't stay young forever. While certain individuals, like Peter, really do want to stay young and a child, most of us accept that we have to continually move forward. We accept that we have to. And most of us are okay with that.

It makes me sad. I mean, I know the reality of what it is to be human. We have experiences that shape and mold us as children. We continually age, we mature. We find jobs (hopefully), fall in love, maybe have children, work on our education, fight, love, suffer...and then eventually, and hopefully a long time later, we die. And we pass on who we were and what we have learned in our lifetime. Wendy accepts this readily near the end of the novel, but do we all?

The other aspect of this that I briefly wanted to touch on was the aspect of mothering. Wendy serves as a mother to the Lost Boys on the Island. Even Captain Hook creates a scheme to capture Wendy. As a female, as a "mother" figure, she holds a lot of power in the story. Tinkerbell doesn't care for her, the boys cherish her, and the grown men on Hook's ship also seem to love her. We all have a great and lasting respect for mothers. I know I still talk to my mom all the time about the things that bother me, my successes and failures.

But what about the mothers without children? I know Barrie wrote the novel to his own mother, who lost another son at a young age. How she must have grieved for her son. Perhaps this novel really is a testament to that kind of pain and suffering.

In all, I really loved this little novel. I am glad that I was exposed to it at a younger age, so I was familiar with the younger side of Peter. Now that I am older, wiser, and have accepting that I have grown up quite a bit, I can really accept the older, darker side of this novel.

And I cannot wait to read it to my own day far off in the future. I'm not ready for that yet.


  1. I tried reading this a few years ago and didn't get far, but I think I was too impatient. I think I'd like to revisit it, only in audio, to force me to slow down. Peter Pan was one of my favorite stories as a kid. We had one of those read along audio thingies where you turn the page at the sound of the beep.

  2. I've never read this (just seen the Disney movie!). I'm toying with the idea of a children's book reading spree, though, and from what you say here, I think this should be one I try.

  3. I loved Disney's Peter Pan as a little kid, but I never got around to reading the book. I really should give it a try sometime!

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  4. The funny thing for me about Peter Pan is that I have almost no connection to it from my childhood. I don't remember it ever being read to me (or reading it myself for that matter), and I never saw a film version until Hook by which point I was an adult. It is one of the few "popular" stories/fairy tales that I feel removed from. Maybe reading it now would be an interesting experience.

  5. I think this is such a sweet adventure book. I read it after seeing Finding Neverland a few years ago.

  6. I read this probably a half a dozen times when I was in sixth grade. I just loved the book. I never felt a connection to the Disney movie, but this book was just MINE.

    I read it to my then 2 year old last summer. He didn't 'get' it but the reading together time was memorable. He remembered Wendy for a long time there after. (I wonder if he still does? I don't think so...)

  7. Oh it sounds so beautiful. Great review.

  8. I read this book recently too...and loved it! I loved how it was so subtle in terms of themes and such. I was surprised at how dark the story really was. You don't see that in the Disney movie at all!

    Yes, there's so much running on the theme of 'growing up' right. I think, more than choosing to grow up because it's the logical thing to do, Wendy is AND the boys, save Peter, are all ready and willing to grow up. But the end is rather striking, isn't it, when Barrie tells us what 'respectable' and 'boring' citizens the Lost Boys become when they grow up. I suppose Barrie is trying to say that adults, in general, lack imagination and so their world is rather dull?... interesting concept that. I haven't thought of it before...

    In case you're interested my thoughts on the novel and a separate post on Captain Hook can be found here