in Blog, Reads

Reading the Classics: Peter Pan

Here’s a new feature for lectitans: Reading the Classics.  I’ll be reading classic books and posting my thoughts on them, links of interest, etc.  The first book I’m using for this feature is J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

In case you didn’t know, Peter Pan is about Wendy Moira Angela Darling, her brothers, and their adventures in the Neverland with a boy named Peter Pan.  Peter ran away from home shortly after his birth, and refuses to grow up.

It may strike you as odd that I went to the age of 25 without having ever read Peter Pan, especially having been exposed to many incarnations of it.  I didn’t spend my life avoiding reading it.  I just never thought about picking it up, until I recently started reading J. V. Hart’s Capt. Hook and decided I should perhaps read the source material first.

Reading Peter Pan was like coming home.  As a child I watched the Betty Comden/Adolph Greene musical Peter Pan (starring Mary Martin as Peter) time and time again.  I loved that musical.  I still do.  The musical is quite faithful to the book, and so I found myself reciting lines as I was reading, and exerting great control over myself to keep from bursting into song.  I especially enjoy the aspects of Barrie’s writing that sound as though he himself were reading a child a bedtime story.

Peter Pan is on first glance a simple story, but it has inspired so many imaginations and led to so many adaptations and spin-offs that I can’t help but examine it on a deeper level.  I have nothing new to say about the book, I fear; its themes are clearly growing up and the passage of time.  What I find interesting and haven’t read a lot about is the contrast between Wendy and Peter.  Peter never wants to grow up, and Wendy is very eager to be a grown up.  She wants to do grown up things, keep a grown up house, raise children as grown ups do.  Playing at being a little mother is what Wendy does best.  I identify with her heavily, especially in the 2003 film adaptation, where she is the storyteller and likes to swordfight.  (The newest Wendy is by far my favorite Wendy.)

I don’t particularly like the Disney Peter Pan, though I find Disney’s Tinkerbell charming.  The musical is my favorite adaptation.

For me, the most interesting character is Captain Hook.  Cyril Richard’s Captain Hook in the musical first sparked my love of pirates.  Ask any of my friends or students, and they’ll tell you I have a pirate problem.  It didn’t start with Captain Jack Sparrow.  It goes all the way back to Capt. Jas. Hook and his beautiful red coat.  Captain Hook is an adult, but he lives in the Neverland.  How did an Etonian end up in the land of children’s imagination?  I guess I’ll have to read Capt. Hook to find out.

My favorite adaptation/spinoff from the Peter Pan story is Christopher Golden’s Straight on til Morning.  It’s a dark version of the tale, set in the summer of 1981 (a grand time if you ask me).  I highly recommend it.

Peter Pan seems above review to me; what is there to say about its quality?  Time. popularity, wars over its copyright, and its many derivative works have revealed all that’s necessary in that case, I think.  I enjoyed reading it.

For a comprehensive look at Peter Pan and the works it inspired, read Little Willow’s article, Peter Pan and Friends.

Leave a Reply