“Pan, who and what art thou?” he cried huskily.
“I’m youth, I’m joy,” Peter answered at a venture, “I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.” This, of course, was nonsense; but it was proof to the unhappy Hook that Peter did not know in the least who or what he was (…). – p. 177.
I read this book as part of my goal to read 12 classics in 2018 (six classics in German, six classics in English) and it is the first in line for the English Classics. Even though I have watched the adaptation of ‘Peter Pan’ by Walt Disney as well as several other adaptations since I was a little girl, I have never read the original story they are all based upon. I have been wanting to pick up this book for so long now and since I loved the dark and bitter-sweet retelling of Peter Pan, ‘Tiger Lily’ by J.L. Anderson so much, I thought it was time for me to read the original story of the boy who refuses to grow up.
In ‘Peter Pan’, J.M. Barrie tells the story of Peter Pan, a young boy who lives in a fantastical dream-like land called Neverland. One day on his flight through London, he enters the chamber of Wendy Moira Angela Darling and her two brothers, John and Michael. Together with his sidekick, a very jealous fairy called Tinker Bell, they start their journey to Neverland, where new adventures await. Battling against pirates, watching mermaids in the mermaid lagoon and with Wendy being installed as their mother who repairs their clothes, tells them stories and puts them to bed, they are having a blissful time away from home. But there are dangerous sides to Neverland that even the lost-boys can’t escape.
I never thought this story would be so dark and sinister in itself. It is quite cruel indeed: A selfish boy who refuses to grow up, who refuses to feel responsible for anyone or anything and puts his own entertainment above everything else. Children, who selfishly leave their home, who only seek adventure and fun for themselves, knowing their parents must be heartbroken by their silent departure. Adventures full of killing pirates, fighting and doing whatever comes to Peter’s – quite disturbed – mind. Children who forget. Children, who want to forget because it seems so easy and fun. It was shocking and tragic to read and I felt heartbroken for each and every one of them.
What is interesting to me is that while reading I could imagine this to be a very successful play for children and adults to enjoy at an evening at the theatre. For it was entertaining and magical and funny, but it also had a tinge of darkness that could not be easily overlooked (at least from my modern-time point of view). I also loved how melodramatic it all seemed. More than once I had to think to myself that this style of writing reminded me of old black-and-white films with actors talking in a very passionate way, being exquisitely dramatic. But that’s also what made this story so charming for me. I really felt like I was listening to an old and wise story-teller who captured my imagination with those terrific adventures he himself seems to have witnessed from afar.
It is definitely darker than the Disney-adaptation, but if you loved those, I recommend this book to you. It shows how a story can be interpreted in various ways and be made into movies, shows and retellings that somehow give it a little twist here and there and make something new: either a feel-good-movie or a really dark and twisted retelling – anything is possible, because the original play makes it possible.
Author: J.M. Barrie
Title: Peter Pan
Press: Puffin Books
Year of publication: 1967
Some Adaptations of ‘Peter Pan’ that are worth looking into:
‘Hook’ (movie; 1991)
‘Finding Neverland’ (movie; 2005)
J.L. Anderson – ‘Tiger Lily’ (book; 2012)
Christina Henry – ‘Lost Boy’ (book; 2017)
Also: Season 3 of the TV show ‘Once Upon A Time’ – where Peter Pan is portrayed exactly as I always imagined him to be.