01 March 2010

You Can Fly! You Can Fly!

#14 Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

In college I took a class on the origins of fairy tales. Did you know that the Little Mermaid dies and turns into sea foam in the original Hans Christian Andersen story, or that Sleeping Beauty was impregnated while in her deep sleep because Prince Philip couldn't wait to wake her? Peter Pan isn't a classic fairy tale, but it is another reminder of Disney's ability to take a story with disturbing elements and make it child friendly. I haven't seen the Disney version for quite some time, but I don't remember ever being scared or worried while watching it.

Barrie's novel isn't necessarily "scary," but it's a book for children, and I don't think stories about cutting off a pirate's arm are appropriate for young readers. It has both a whimsical and dark tone to it. The characters are violent. The group of lost boys is constantly changing because they die in Neverland. Tinker Bell hates Wendy and tries to kill her. I was half expecting the little fairy to bare her fangs at some point because she had few redeeming qualities. The violence between the Lost Boys, Hook and his pirate gang and the rest of the groups on Neverland isn't typical children's Power Ranger violence. It's not a punch and the bad guy is unconscious; it's more of a stab with a sword and he's dead. Even though Peter is the book's protagonist, he's not a likable character. He's selfish and arrogant, but then again he's just a little boy.

The idea of Neverland is disheartening once you see how everyone but Peter Pan grows old and matures. There's nothing sweet to it. I wanted to cry for Peter and his inability/stubbornness to grow up, yet I could relate. Wouldn't it be nice if we never had to worry about school, finding a job or complicated relationships? But wouldn't it also be horrible to never mature and experience adult things?

I don't think I was touched by the book until the last couple of chapters where we see how Wendy has aged and Peter has remained a boy. Because he'll never grow up, he has no sense of time and fails to realize that other people will get older and move on with their lives. Even though it's Peter's choice to stay a child, I still became sad knowing that he got left behind. It doesn't phase him, but it phased me and I pitied his naivety.

1 comment:

  1. I took a Grimm's Fairy Tale Class in college as well. I've never read this, so I don't know about the violence but I think when it comes to fairy tales, they tend to be overly sanitized now. Then again, I don't interact with young children often so I might not be the best judge.
    I recently read Alice I Have Been, a fictionalized biography of Alice Liddell, one of the girls whom Lewis Carroll originally told the Alice in Wonderland story. It is up for debate whether or not she actually inspired the character. I was curious how the novel and reality compared so I looked it up online, and since she met the boy that inspired Peter Pan, the source I found also mentioned that he had committed suicide as an adult. That comment made me interested in reading this novel or watching Finding Neverland.
    I grew up on Grimm's Fairy Tales in the original German so I'm very familiar with the differences between Disney and the original tales. I've never read the originals of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz so I'm sure the comparison would be interesting. Anyway, I enjoyed your review - it was very well-written, and I thought this was an interesting selection.