Hi everyone! I’m really excited to be back reviewing Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. So our family went on another day trip to visit my grandparents. And we listened to this children’s classic on the drive. And it really made an impression on us. I’m excited to share some thoughts with you!
First of all, this novel has several different names. The audiobook we listened to was called Peter Pan and Wendy. Basically (according to my simple and short research), the story started as a play then was published as a book in 1911. There were several names and Peter Pan and Wendy was the original name of the book. I think my first encounter with Peter came as part of the Disney film, which is of course, simply titled Peter Pan.
A few initial thoughts on this novel:
- I was surprised not to like Peter Pan the character very much. More on this later.
- The writing is beautiful. I absolutely love the story telling. The language and the style is welcoming and warm.
- The action is intense–sometimes too intense for me. Hook’s fiery obsession with vengeance is a bit scary. And the battle between pirates and Indians is surprisingly bloody. Not to mention the final battle with the pirates aboard the Jolly Roger.
- The Disney film does a great job adapting the story–the crocodile even ticks because he swallowed a clock in the book! I have now added said Disney film to our list of need to watch soon 🙂
Peter Pan follows the story of the Darling children–Wendy, John, and Michael–and their adventures with Peter Pan in Neverland. When Peter comes in search of his shadow in their nursery, the children learn to fly and are convinced to travel to Neverland. They leave behind their doting parents and unconventional nursemaid, Nana (who is a dog). In Neverland, the children meet mermaids, Indians, pirates (including the dastardly Captain Hook), fairies, and the Lost Boys. Wendy becomes their mother and they have many adventures together. But when the Darling children decide to return home, Hook captures everyone but Peter. Will Peter save the day? And will the children ever get back home?
I was surprised to find myself more annoyed and confused by Peter than amused by him. Honestly, he was too stubborn and selfish for me. He forgets everyone and everything so easily. I was shocked when he almost didn’t remember the Darling children as they flew to Neverland–and almost let them die if they flew awry. Yes, I understand he is the epitome of a young boy (with all his baby teeth still in tact), but he was not kind or that likable.
I enjoyed getting more background and more insights from Wendy in the novel. We learn that she decided to grow up earlier than most children. And she is old enough to have a little crush on Peter (love the thimbles and kisses). I enjoyed seeing her interact with the boys and the way she kept their memories of their life and parents alive (her little school is so cute). It is interesting how easily Wendy falls into the motherly role–she really is a natural. But she can also see that she needs a mother too. I appreciate her wisdom, especially for her age.
One of the most interesting characters for me in the book is Mrs Darling. She has a kiss at the corner of her mouth that no one can claim. No one, except Peter Pan, who snatches it easily when he returns after the children come home. I think there is so much more to Mrs. Darling’s story–her childhood, her knowledge of Peter, perhaps even a few adventures in Neverland herself. I like the idea that she knew Peter when she was a child. And I like the idea that she knew her children would come back because she also chose to come back.
The perspective of the novel is unique and has stayed with me. We see the world and the story through the mind of a child. The narrator paints vivid pictures in readers’ minds of the different scenes of the novel. I love the details. We crouch in the bushes as the Lost Boys file past looking for Peter; we slide down the hollow trees, holding our breathe; we tell Mrs. Darling not to worry because the children are coming home. This perspective really made me feel like I was a child, a part of the story. It was different and I really enjoyed it.
The novel has many intriguing elements surrounding memory and time. My husband and I talked a lot about these themes after finishing the audio book–some of our favorite insights are below:
- We were surprised that time does pass when the children are in Neverland. But we don’t know exactly how much. Perhaps that comes from our childlike narrator. Time isn’t as important to the children as to adults.
- The children get caught up in life in Neverland so the “mainland” feels like a dream. We could relate to that because in our lives, we can “escape” reality by going on vacation or visiting a friend in another city. We start to forget about life at home. In fact, we embrace the way we feel separate from daily life. The difference is that, as adults, we are willing to go back more quickly.
- Peter’s memory is that of a young boy’s–and he forgets so many things. The ending of the novel is so interesting because Peter comes less and less frequently for Wendy, but he thinks no time has past. Then when Wendy is older, he has forgotten all about Tinkerbell and his defeat of Captain Hook. Again, this is surprising, but also shows how limited our perspective is. We know time passes but we don’t know all the Peter does (or thinks he does) in that time. He lives in that beautiful space where imagination and reality blend and become the same thing.
- I love that we get more details after Wendy grows up. She knows she cannot fly away with Peter anymore. In fact she remarks, “I have forgotten how to fly.” Why has she forgotten and why can’t she relearn? The answers to these questions are certainly connected to the fact that Wendy has grown up. Her imagination has become limited, or at least changed. But time does not change the fact that she knows Peter Pan is real.
Growing up is a central theme of the novel, and we get several different examples of how to approach it. Peter refuses to grow up because he always wants to have fun. The Lost Boys resist growing up at firs but eventually embrace it as a new adventure. Michael holds onto his adventures in Neverland the longest–perhaps because he is resisting the most. Wendy is different than the average child because she embraces growing up but also retains her imagination. She tells her daughter Jane about Peter and does not really resist Peter taking Jane to Neverland in her place.
I want to be like Wendy. I want to believe in stories like Peter Pan. Perhaps my reaction to the novel is skewed because I am already grown up. I probably couldn’t learn to fly now. But I can embrace change and also embrace imagination. And that would be an awfully big adventure.
Have you read Peter Pan? What did you think?