Oh England, my lionheart
Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park
Peter Pan is one of children's literature's greatest creations. He's the boy who never grew up, isn't he? And which of us wants to grow up? We can all relate to that. He's exciting. He opens the minds of three young children and takes them off to a world of adventure, where they meet mermaids, and pirates, and badly stereotyped Native Americans, and they have a thrilling time, before they go home and live their humdrum lives again.
That's Peter Pan in a nutshell, isn't it? It doesn't capture the details of the plot, but it captures the spirit of it.
Rubbish, I'm afraid. Peter Pan is far more complex and interesting than that.
Peter Pan is a perpetual child. Look at any small boy you know. The chances are that he is sometimes sweet and innocent, and sometimes a complete monster. Barrie describes all children as "gay and innocent and heartless", and Peter Pan is the ultimate child. He is fickle and self-centred, and utterly charming. He's not the boy who never grew up. He's the boy who refused to grow up, and who refused to let any of his friends grow up either.
The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.
I don't like the sound of that. Thinning them out. It all sounds so callous. But that's Peter for you. He sets Wendy up in a house of her own, and turns her into his mother. This consists mainly of sewing and of giving out medicine. Thrilling, eh? He's so desparate to hang on to his own childhood that he denies Wendy hers. Seems to work for Wendy, though. Odd girl. Head turned by the thought of seeing mermaids, helped along by a hefty dose of fairy dust.
Adventures ensue, but at the end of the day, Wendy wants her own mother - she wants to take her brothers home. Peter won't let them - he wants them to stay, although it's quite clear that he would be likely to forget about them fairly quickly. He is offered the chance to stay with Wendy, but this would mean growing up. He declines.
"Oh, all right," Peter said, as if he had asked her from politeness merely; but Mrs. Darling saw his mouth twitch, and she made this handsome offer: to let Wendy go to him for a week every year to do his spring cleaning. Wendy would have preferred a more permanent arrangement; and it seemed to her that spring would be long in coming; but this promise sent Peter away quite gay again. He had no sense of time, and was so full of adventures that all I have told you about him is only a halfpenny-worth of them. I suppose it was because Wendy knew this that her last words to him were these rather plaintive ones:
"You won't forget me, Peter, will you, before spring cleaning time comes?"
Pan, however, has the attention span of a child. He remembers the next year, although he has forgotten much of the adventures of the year before.
She had looked forward to thrilling talks with him about old times, but new adventures had crowded the old ones from his mind.
"Who is Captain Hook?" he asked with interest when she spoke of the arch enemy.
"Don't you remember," she asked, amazed, "how you killed him and saved all our lives?"
"I forget them after I kill them," he replied carelessly.
When she expressed a doubtful hope that Tinker Bell would be glad to see her he said, "Who is Tinker Bell?"
"O Peter," she said, shocked; but even when she explained he could not remember.
"There are such a lot of them," he said. "I expect she is no more."
The year after, he forgets to come for her, and by the time he remembers again, Wendy has grown up and has a daughter of her own. He takes her instead, and when she too grows too old, it is Wendy's granddaughter that goes with him.
Frankly, I loved the down-beat nature of the ending. It really drew out the childlike qualities of Pan for me - his innocent and heartless side. It surprised me though. I don't remember that from the Disney version.
Overall, I was surprised when I read this book. I was surprised at the sympathy I felt towards Hook, despite the fact that he was clearly a heartless villain, and I was surprised at the animosity I felt towards Peter Pan, who was the hero in a story of his own writing, who didn't care for anyone else, and whose final victory was hollow and ultimately meaningless.
What's the point of winning, if all it means is moving on to the next excitement?
The rock was very small now; soon it would be submerged. Pale rays of light tiptoed across the waters; and by and by there was to be heard a sound at once the most musical and the most melancholy in the world: the mermaids calling to the moon.
Peter was not quite like other boys; but he was afraid at last. A tremour ran through him, like a shudder passing over the sea; but on the sea one shudder follows another till there are hundreds of them, and Peter felt just the one. Next moment he was standing erect on the rock again, with that smile on his face and a drum beating within him. It was saying, "To die will be an awfully big adventure."