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.
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