Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Peter Pan

A few months ago I kept seeing Peter Pan quotes on Pinterest--and they were heartbreakingly, ethereally beautiful. They reached the deepest ache of the soul, like Mrs. Darling's kiss that no one could have, and touched it. So when a chance came to pick up the book, I grabbed at it. I didn't know anything about the story. Years and years ago our family watched the cartoon version of Peter Pan. I don't remember much of it--nothing, in fact, except the crocodile, Hook, Wendy, Peter, and Tinkerbell.

I'm still trying to figure out what I think of it. But I suspected that would happen before I read the book, and I'm OK, for once, with not knowing. If this review seems rather on the contemplative side, it's a result of my attempt at processing the trickier portions of the book.

The Book [from Goodreads]
Originally told as a tale by J.M. Barrie to five brothers and first produced as a play in 1904, Peter Pan is the beloved and classic story about the boy who never grows up. Follow the Darling children- Wendy, John, and Michael- as they fly over the rooftops of London to Neverland and have adventures with the Lost Boys, Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, mermaids, and the dreadful Captain Hook and his band of pirates.
My Thoughts 
There is so much beautiful in Peter Pan. “When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” Who wouldn't love a fairy made from a baby's laugh? The sheer, adventurous courage of Peter's "Leave Hook to me." Peter and Wendy pretending to be mother and father to all the Lost Boys. Peter's bright, glorious, cocky personality that will never mature or improve, because he will never grow up. Flying over the ocean and past the stars. Peter saving Wendy's life from drowning at the risk of his own. It's easy to see why Wendy fell under Peter's spell.

Peter Pan is, in many ways, about the grief of losing childhood. In some ways that's dangerous. We're raising to be adults, not children. But in some ways, it would not resonate so deeply, and ache so much, if there was not a reason behind it. Is it the lose of faith? The loss of hope? That grown-up, jaded cynicism that seems so inevitable except in the souls of a fortunate few? I don't know. Perhaps a little of all three, that we never want to have, but slip into in spite of ourselves.

As far as flaws, there were a few. Mr. Darling is a particularly inept example of fatherhood, and I found him disturbing and contemptible. Tinkerbell's vocabulary is not always lady-like for small children to be hearing. The story seems to teach that those who live faithful, quiet, normal lives are less well off than those who throw responsibility to the winds. But the actions belie the narrative, and the boys who end up with mothers and school and stuffy adulthood end up better off than Peter Pan, for all his brittle sparkle. He doesn't want a mother, believing that his own mother betrayed him. He tries to prevent the other boys from wanting mothers too. But in spite of that, his life is still saved or bettered by several sacrificial mothers in this story--the bird, Wendy, and Mrs. Darling.

I think it now time to admit that I have passed the line of Cries Rarely, and now Cry Like a Sucker at everything beautiful or heartbreaking. (spoilers follow) When Peter left Wendy--when her heart ended up being more faithful than his, and he forgot her for years, only to come back and find her grown up--I just crumpled up and cried. (end of spoilers) 

In the end, the book left me concerned, not for readers or for Peter or Wendy--but for J.M. Barrie himself. I walked away wondering how to unlock the childish, broken, jaded soul that wrote this book. It seemed to me that it was conceived and written from profound unhappiness. That something had gone wrong--and J.M. Barrie vacillated between pure flights of imagination and bitter, bitter nostalgia. Peter Pan was a way of showing people the innocence that ought to be, while at the same time taunting them with the knowledge that they would inevitably break the goldenness of their innocence. I think perhaps he lost the mother he wanted when his brother David died, and never recovered from it. Peter Pan seems to be grappling with a problem for which he never found an answer, and so it is a mix of all parts beautiful and terrible and unresolved.

There were a couple of short stories, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and The Blot On Peter Pan. Peter Pan in Kengsington Gardens had too much fairy and weird paganism for me to really find it enjoyable. It's tragic to think of a boy trying to live like a bird because he thinks he is one. But the Blot on Peter Pan was a funny, wonderful way to end off the book. The sarcastic narrative was simply priceless.

Peter Pan is a story about the need for every child to have a home. The joy of every child's ability to believe in what they cannot see. The adventure that no one, young or old, should lose a taste for. A strange mix of childish illogicalitys and beautiful, beautiful imagination, all mixed with a heavy dose of paganism that requires wiser heads than mine to sort out.

I am glad to have read it. But sometimes I wonder why I willingly subject myself to such heartbreak.
“There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.” ~Peter and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie

12 comments:

  1. I love how you tried to connect the story and its messages and morals with the author. Before I myself was a writer, I don't think I ever considered that stories or poetry were an extension of the mental battle of their writers, and when I read that a piece of writing was based on the writer's life, I found it interesting. But now most of my own poetry is who I am, what is going on in me and in my life, and it's entirely normal for me to hear that an author wrote a book or story or poem because of what was going on in his life.
    Anyway, that rant was entirely off-topic. I really do need to pick up Peter Pan for myself sometime and see what my mind will give as an opinion.

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    1. When a story moves me very much, or leaves me wrestling or wondering, it is often because the author has poured a deeply personal part of themselves into the book. I love people who write that way. It requires courage because it showcases their flaws as well as their virtues, but I think it reaches people on a deeper level.

      Let me know if you read Peter Pan! :)

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  2. I read Peter Pan for the first time earlier this year and was just as heartbroken, inspired and confused by this book! I empathized so well with Wendy and all I wanted to do was be Peter's mother. He is such a fascinating character, one of the most complex I've ever encountered in literature. All the characters in that book are more than meets the eye. In many ways, I feel like all the characters are analogies for something greater. For instance, Hook is an analogy of the curse of time. He is haunted by a ticking clock, plagued with the fear of death, of his time running out.

    In many ways I believe this book is an attempt for J.M. Barrie to reconcile himself with his brother's death and rationalize the death of a child. I've often heard Peter Pan described as an analogy of a child's death, perhaps eluding to not just Barrie's personal experience but also to the many parents who lost children to sickness during this time. When someone you love dies at such a young age, they don't ever grow up in your mind and there is a sensation as you grow up apart from them that in a strange way you're getting farther and farther away from them while their memory stays fixated as young.

    Probably the most amazing thing about this story is that it is so deep and there are so many layers to it, but at the same time it's a story that children understand to an extent and enjoy immensely.

    Dani from A Vapor in the Wind

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    1. Spot on what you said, Dani! I agree. I would love to read this book with a young child some time, and see if they get instinctively some of the parts that I find confusing. :)

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  3. It's been years since I read this book, but last time, I remember particularly loving the elements of satire.

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    1. The curmudgeonly guardian in story #3 is priceless!

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  4. This is a great, thought-out review. I really enjoyed seeing your perspective on it and agree with you. Peter Pan has always been near and dear to my heart since I was little, but it's been harder now that I'm older and have stronger convictions, specifically about magic/fairies etc. A while ago I started writing my own retelling of it, and I hope to still finish it. :)
    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts! Very good review :)

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    1. A re-telling of Peter Pan! Oh, Raechel, that sounds amazing. :D If you're ever looking for someone to fangirl/discuss it with, I'm open. ;D

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  5. Oh wow, I loved that last quote you put in. =) I'm so glad you got to read it. It reminds me of the last chapter in "The House at Pooh Corner" where it just tugs at your heart--though I'm sure the two stories are very different. ;P

    And I loved the bookshop we got this from... =)

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    1. Peter Pan has so many heart-touching quotables, and in many ways, the sweet "magic" of Winnie the Pooh. It tugs at your heart--though Pooh, I think, is a little more innocent and carefree.

      We must go back to the bookshop! ;D

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  6. Oh gladly! :D As I said, I've got a soft spot for Peter Pan and would love fangirling/discussing it anytime! :)
    I'm also trying to give my retelling a Christian twist. Should be interesting and I hope it progresses well! :)

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    1. I hope it does too! And my email's always open: ladybibliophileblog{at}gmail{dot}com. :D

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