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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Great Book #5: Peter Pan

peter-pan-j-m-barrie-paperback-cover-art“It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly.”

Of all the books on my great 100 list, this is probably the biggest why-didn’t-I-read-this-when-I-was-a-kid? I’ll tell you why: along with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (which I finally read four or five years ago), I watched the Disney movie several times and then somehow convinced myself that I had actually read the book. (I know. I am so ashamed.)

Anyway, Seanan recently told me he was reading the novel (which I listened to on Librivox) and mentioned this particular passage, which he rightly thought I would appreciate:

Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.

How delightfully eerie! (I wanted to call it magical realism, but can there be such a thing in a fantasy novel? The first couple chapters do take place in ordinary London…) After this passage I figured I’d enjoy the rest of the story just as much.

Well…no. Actually, I didn’t enjoy the rest of Peter Pan at all.

Call me excessively P.C. for cringing every time I heard the words “redskins,” “savages,” or “Piccaninny tribe,” or unimaginative for finding it utterly ridiculous that grown men (no matter how dastardly) should fight little boys to the death as if they were equally matched. It is, of course, Peter Pan himself who annoys me most, partly because I see his echo everywhere in popular culture. We tell our young men that it’s okay to be selfish and irresponsible, that they can hop on a carousel of hedonism and never come down again. Wendy, Tinkerbell, and Tiger Lily–and oh yes, the mermaids too!–all squabbling over the same cocky, self-indulgent little boy: sure sounds like reality TV to me. Peter goes away for years and expects Wendy to wait for him, and eventually he trades her in (and her daughter, and her granddaughter…) for a younger girl. Heck, during their original flight to Neverland he even forgets who Wendy is! Peter Pan is the original man-boy, and I see enough of him in real life, thank you very much.

“I don’t want to go to school and learn solemn things,” he told her
passionately. “I don’t want to be a man. O Wendy’s mother, if I was to
wake up and feel there was a beard!”

“Peter,” said Wendy the comforter, “I should love you in a beard;” and
Mrs. Darling stretched out her arms to him, but he repulsed her.

“Keep back, lady, no one is going to catch me and make me a man.”

I don’t want this post to turn into a full-on rant (I don’t know, is it too late?), but I just need to mention two more things that bothered me. Once Peter and the lost boys have defeated Hook and his crew, he starts wearing Hook’s clothes, brandishing an imaginary hook, and generally behaving like a pirate captain. Hmm…now which Orwell novel does this remind you of? I know, I know, it feels very wrong to speak of Animal Farm and Peter Pan in the same blog entry, but it is what it is.

But the thing that really annoyed the hell out of me is this line from the last chapter:

Mrs. Darling was now dead and forgotten.

That seals it: Mr. Barrie, if our lifetimes had overlapped and you and I ever met in the street, I would have stomped on your foot.

2 Comments to Great Book #5: Peter Pan

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    January 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    That first passage is really lovely–although I wonder what that would have looked like if they had tried to include it in the Disney film.

  2. April 20, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Good Review….

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.