Peter Pan

Peter Pan - I adore books full of whimsy and charming turns of phrase on every page, so for the most part, I greatly enjoyed Peter Pan. I think the book hooked me when Barrie explained Neverland as an imaginary map visible to children until adult landmarks gradually overlap the map, leaving Neverland and its wonders forgotten. It’s such a beautiful cartographic metaphor for childhood, and from that point on, I was invested in Barrie’s ruminations on growing up and what children need (basically, they need moms), despite some boring parts and sexist qualms.As for the low points, and I recall this same criticism from my Disney watching days, the time spent in Neverland is not entertaining. I prefer the beginning and end, when the children are plotting their escape to and from Neverland, to the lagging doldrums in the middle of the book when the children are living in Neverland. I was also immensely annoyed by the book’s sexism. I understand that a major theme of the book is the necessity of mothers for young children, but because of this theme, to be a woman in Peter Pan, you must be either A) maternal B) desirous of male companionship (and thus jealous of other women). A combination of A and B is probably preferable (Wendy, who both mothers the Lost Boys and serves as a (chaste) female companion for Peter, is the closest to being an ideal woman). The book wears its sexism quite freely. The reason Wendy goes to Neverland is because she “tempts” Peter with her knowledge of bedtime stories. Oh, and the Lost Boys need their pockets darned. Later, Wendy only returns to Neverland to do Peter’s spring cleaning. It saddens me that only the little boys are depicted as having careless fun. Wendy’s brothers get to kill pirates and parade around the island, but Wendy is always a mother, always a caretaker. The other main female character is Tinkerbell, who is mute and terribly envious of Peter’s attention to Wendy. Also off-putting is the initial description of Tinkerbell as “a girl exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage.” Why do we need to see a tiny young girl’s body sexualized??? It’s disturbing how sexist this book is, but it seems to be largely ignored since it’s a children’s classic. I found it interesting that Peter, the eponymous character, is a horrible, selfish, obnoxious, cocky brat. Although he is the supposed hero of the story, Peter is described as domineering and heartless, as all young children often are. Wendy manages to overcome her sexist role and, in my opinion, is the real hero of the book. I wish the book still bore its original title, Peter and Wendy, because that more accurately represents the true protagonist and somewhat ameliorates the sexism. Yet, I still rated this book 4 stars in spite of those many caveats due to the final chapter, “When Wendy Grew Up,” which absolutely completes the book. The chapter is a tour de force on the bittersweet occurrences of growing up, yet it was absent in the original Peter Pan play. I’m glad it was added to the published novel because juxtaposing how Wendy grows up and is actually quite happy about it though occasionally nostalgic for Neverland, next to the immutable, everlasting boyhood of Peter, who will always be alone, is incredibly moving. Books concerned with growing up often depict the loss of childhood as the great loss of every individual’s life, the moment when we lose ourselves to a life of interminable monotony. But Barrie, in a children’s book no less, pioneers a different theme. In Peter Pan, he essentially shows us that we do not want to be like Peter Pan. For all the charms of childhood, adulthood is an equally exciting stage; perhaps there are no pirates or mermaids, but there are plenty of other adventures. We must simply grow up to discover them.