Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Blast from the Past: Peter Pan

Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Originally published in 1904 (play)/1911 (novel) by FD Bedford

My edition: a gorgeous Puffin Classics hardcover. I want the whole collection!

What’s it about?
Peter Pan and Tinkerbell lead the three Darling children over the rooftops of London and away to Neverland – the island where the lost boys play. Magic and mischief is in the air but if villainous Captain Cook has his way, before long someone will be swimming with the crocodiles...

Why now?
In all honesty? I needed a short classic so I could write one of these posts as I haven’t posted one in a LONG time. And I need some faith, trust and pixie dust in my life.

The verdict:
Hmm. This is a tough one, and I can’t decide how I feel about it. I love every film adaptation I’ve seen of it and the story is one I feel like I’ve known all my life, but the original(ish) version didn’t stir up the nostalgia and warmth that I fully expected it to.

JM Barrie’s narration was much stronger than I anticipated. His commentary, opinions and control of the story came through really firmly and although I liked it, I felt a bit thrown out of the story. The reader is very directly involved with the story. His character was strong and real and I actually liked him a lot more than I did most of the characters in the novel. His presence also made the fact that Peter Pan was adapted from a play more evident. I could feel the scene changes, Barrie directed your attention to certain places, situations and characters in the way of stage directions and the setting is intricately described every time the characters move. It’s a really interesting way to read, though I’m not quite sure it was for me.

The focus on imagination and Neverland being a place of realised imagination is prevalent in Peter Pan. Neverland and everything in it being make-believe was constantly reiterated and I don’t think it needed to be; I just wanted to enjoy being there. Even Peter himself couldn’t decipher between reality and make-believe and I think that was enough to through some shadow in everything as it was, especially when Wendy and the Lost Boys had to follow his imaginary lead.

Something else that I think came across too strongly was the idea of motherhood; I think Barrie had mummy issues, and reading up on his early life, I think that was spot on. His younger brother died early and she took it very hard and struggled with James. She was comforted by the idea that he would be a child forever and yeah, I think you can see what I do. It was interesting to see the position of women in an Edwardian household though. Wendy saw herself and her household incomplete without a baby and she was overjoyed at putting the Lost Boys to bed, doing her sewing and looking after everyone. It was the same with Mrs Darling whose life fell apart without her children; she just stopped and waited for them to return. Now obviously I’m not a mother and I wasn’t around in the early 1900s so it’s natural that it’s a little odd, but I did think it was a rather strange focus for an Edwardian man to have in his novel.

The narration veered from childish and accusatory to literary and firm with little or no inclination as to why in both style and prose. Barrie uses a lot of anthropomorphism which is a trope that I would generally associate with a child’s point of view and harsh, black-and-white judgements of characters to a sweeping and beautiful comment about the origin of fairies or the love of a mother. The mixture and incontinuity in that respect kept me on my toes and I actually really liked the clash of the two styles.

I kind of enjoyed Peter Pan, but I also feel a little as if my childhood has been slightly beaten over the head with an umbrella. I guess I just got something that I really, really wasn’t expecting; I was brainwashed with Disney from an early age, what can I say.

Still not convinced?
- Have you seen this edition?!
- You’ve seen all thousand film adaptations, so read the original.
- Buy yeah, I’m not entirely convinced either so I can’t judge....



  1. I have just realised I've never read this either! OMG, how terrible are we. Well, not you any more! I'm not sure I'd like this from your review...I think I'm quite happy for Peter Pan to stay in adaptations!

    Cait x

  2. I haven't read this either, and I can't remember watching the film, now I think about it. I'm pretty sure I dressed up as Tinkerbell when I was around three or four though because I have a very vivid memory of being upset when my costume ripped.
    Maybe I need to read this soon!


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