I am obsessed with Peter Pan, and it’s not just because I have a crush on Robbie Kay who played him on Once Upon A Time. It is the entire concept of Neverland. The conflicts between childhood and adulthood, dreams and reality, innocence and corruption, and freedom and responsibility resonate with me more than they ever did before.
As I am reaching my eighteenth birthday, it might seem silly to some people that I’m so attracted to a fairytale. Truthfully, the story of Peter and Wendy never interested me much when I was younger. It’s only now that I’m approaching uni and have to think about earning money that I really understand what it’s all about.
In the early 1900s when JM Barrie wrote the play ‘Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up’, childhood was cut short very early. The ages of the characters are never specifically stated in either the play or novel, but Peter is described as still having all of his baby teeth, and Wendy is just his height. Nowadays, childhood seems to stretch on for as long as possible. In early adolescence, children seem desperate to grow up, unlike Wendy.
Now, at seventeen going on eighteen, I find myself torn between wanting to live my own life in my own house, earning my own money. But, at the same time, the thought of all that independence terrifies me and all I want to do is crawl back into my childhood and hide there forever. Maybe that’s why I love the idea of Neverland so much.
Can you imagine how wonderful it would be? Someone turns up on your windowsill and whisks you away on an adventure full of more excitement and happiness than you have experienced in your entire life. Unfortunately, there are laws against that kind of thing now.
But at the end of the day, Wendy makes the ultimate decision and says goodbye to Peter, returning home with her brothers to face the inevitable challenge of growing-up, a feat that Peter was never able to accomplish. And it is so sad. The novel depicts the sadness of it much more than the Disney film.
Peter promises to return every year to take Wendy back to Neverland so that he would never forget her. But he does. Because time doesn’t work the same in Neverland, and although he holds to his promise for a couple of years, he soon leaves her for many years. In that time, Wendy gets married and has a daughter. Then, one night, Peter returns to take Wendy (or whom he believes to be Wendy) back to Neverland for her annual visit. And so occurs one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking scenes that I have ever read. Wendy wakes from her chair in the shadows in the corner of the room and sees Peter standing over her daughter’s bed. Peter cheerfully explains that he’s returned after a year to take her away, and Wendy says that it has been longer than that. It has been years. And slowly, Wendy emerges from the shadows and Peter recoils. She’s all grown-up. In the end, Peter takes her daughter to Neverland, and then her granddaughter, and so on. But he always forgets them.
If that hasn’t tugged on your heartstrings enough, then maybe this piece of information will. JM Barrie grew up with seven siblings. When he was six, his fourteen-year-old brother, David, died. His mother was so devastated that Barrie tried to fill his brother’s place by acting like him and wearing his clothes. In Margaret Oglivy (1896), Barrie described a moment when his mother saw him and asked, “Is that you?”, to which he replied in a small voice, “No, it’s no’ him, it’s just me”. He said that his mother took comfort in the fact that David would remain a boy forever and never have to face the horrors of growing-up and difficulties of adulthood.
This adds a whole new side to Peter Pan, who clearly has similarities to Barrie’s brother. The idea that Peter leads other little ‘lost boys’ to the place where they never have to grow up suggests that Peter makes it easier for dying children to move on. It is a sad but oddly comforting idea.
Peter Pan clearly has many layers and themes that are not as obvious as we thought. It is about more than just the struggle of growing-up; it is about the more complex ideas of life, death and love.
I strongly recommend that you read JM Barrie’s Peter and Wendy. Barrie writes in an imaginative style that is completely unique to him. His use of often surreal imagery creates an atmosphere that you can just lose yourself in. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.
On a different note, my dad now has a blog in which he posts reviews of films, TV shows and books. You can visit it here.