Recently I read Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie for the first time. While reading it, I couldn’t help but reflect on the Disney film (both the original and the sequel) and how as a child I adored the films. Today I wanted to not only review the book but talk about how the adaptations of it changed how I interacted with the story.
It was Friday night. Mr and Mrs Darling were dining out. Nana had been tied up in the backyard. The poor dog was barking, for she could smell danger. And she was right – this was the night that Peter Pan would take the Darling children on the most breath-taking adventure of their lives, to a place called Neverland, a strange country where the lost boys live and never grow up, a land with mermaids, fairies and pirates – and of course the terrible, evil, Captain Hook. Peter Pan is undoubtedly one of the most famous and best-loved stories for children, an unforgettable, magical fantasy which has been enjoyed by generations.
While reading this book, it was impossible to miss the fact that it was written for children, something I quite liked. When reading other children’s books like the Hobbit, I often found it impossible to get into the world and found it quite hard to believe that it was written for children. Here however the language is very simple. While bigger words are used than are more commonly found in children’s fiction today, there is a certain playfulness in the tone that makes the reader think that they’re in on the secrets of this adventure too.
To die will be an awfully big adventure.
However the story was very good at enforcing the gender roles and societal expectations of the early 1900s. Throughout this book, Wendy is always cast as a mother to the Lost Boys and even Peter (though he also gets the role of ‘father’ in this make-believe family). While she does get to do somethings, oftentimes she is left at home while the boys get to go out on adventures. We here about what the boys did that day, when they are telling her, rather than us going along too.
All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.
By contrast, in the Disney adaptation (my first encounter with this story), Wendy goes along on the adventures too, even if only as a spectator. This leads to us at least feeling as if she is more involved in the story. It is more interesting too, that in the film we spend more time with the ‘Indians’ (as they are known in the film) and get more of a (stereotypical) insight into their life.
The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it .
The biggest difference though is in the sequel, Return to Neverland, which features Wendy’s daughter Jane is incredibly different. In Barrie’s world, the Darling women each go off to Neverland to do Peter’s spring cleaning on the years that he remembers to escort them to his home. However, in the film Jane gets her own adventure and joins the Lost Boys as an equal, something her mother never did.
Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.
I think that this difference is the reason that I loved this film more than the original, the girls had fun too. While it can be said that Wendy went off to Neverland knowing that she would be a mother to the boys, while she was there, she spent a lot of time thinking of home in a way that Jane never does. It isn’t until the end of the movie that Jane is reminded of her little brother Danny by one of the Lost Boys (Tootles?) and wants to go home.
Never is an awfully long time.
I gave the book four stars, but think that was more to pre-existing fondness for the story, rather than the book being particularly masterful in and of itself.