What if we stayed a child forever? What amazing imaginary world would we live in? Imagine we could fly, fight pirates and hang around with Indians. We wouldn’t have a care in the world. Everything is allowed except talk about grown-up stuff. When we’re older we sometimes look at children and are amazed by their ability to spin everything around into something great. You can make a child excited by making him pick up trash from the ground; or he will be amazed by your just-made-up-story even though it’s terrible.
We might even wish to become a kid again ourselves. I don’t want to be bothered by taxes, essay-deadlines or a job. I just want to play around with stick and stuff. I just want to build a camp in the woods and pretend to be Frodo Baggins running away from Uruk-Hai. Or maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, Peter Pan is a story just about that. What if you could stay a child forever? The fantasy story is written light-heartedly but with a sinister undertone. The moral of the story isn’t that you shouldn’t lose your child-like self. The moral is that your child-like self has to die in a voluntary way in order to become an adult.
We have Peter Pan, a boy who can fly and fight really well, but is kind of a stuck-up kid who desperately wants a mother (even though he’ll never admit it). Then you have Wendy who fills in that role of a mother for Peter and the Lost Boys. And they have it nice in Neverland. But it isn’t what Wendy exactly wants. Wendy wants to become an adult and wants Peter to come with her so they can grow up together. It is this that a woman does. It is the woman who makes the man into an adult. She needs him to grow up in order to become a good father and husband.
This happens in real-life all the time. The boys go out and play and it is the woman who makes sure they behave. Peter tries to impress Wendy by doing all these heroic deeds for her. Going on adventures, saving Tiger Lily, battling Captain Hook (and boy, can we analyze Captain Hook). And Wendy all likes this, but it isn’t enough for her to stay with Peter forever. Sure, it makes her fall in love with Peter as it shows the potentiality of a good and capable husband; but she needs him to give up the child inside him and take responsibilities. It is by taking responsibilities that one can grow up. But Peter does not take responsibility for his actions, and he doesn’t want to.
The only representation of an adult in Peter’s life is Captain Hook. A sad, old man who is scared of the crocodile with a clock in his stomach (read: time – death). Hook has even lost a hand to time. Death is catching up to him. Why? Because he chases the youth and tries to tyrannize them because of some sort of self-hatred towards himself; maybe even because he is jealous that he isn’t as youthful as he was anymore and is scared of death. Who would want to be that guy?
Yet in a way that is what Wendy asks of Peter. To potentially become the thing he fears the most and it is, in the end, because of this fear that Peter stays in Neverland instead of going with Wendy and having a wonderful life with her. In this sense I would call Peter Pan a fun tragedy.
Peter Pan is one of those stories that you have to have read. The Disney film is, I believe, one of the most recognizable films in film history. It is wonderfully accurate to the book, but the book gives this playful feeling the film can’t give because of the limitations of film. J.M. Barrie created a new archetypal story with Peter Pan and one I could analyze for hours.
Well, maybe I’ll do just that. Excuse me while I make my sheets into a small fortress, put on some lights and dive deep into the land of Neverland.