“Peter Pan” by J M Barrie (1911)
People I have mentioned this to have been uniformly surprised to hear that I had never read “Peter Pan”. It seemed an obscure book to me so I did not expect so many people I know to have read it. But I suspect it might be one of those classics that people feel sure they have read, even if they haven’t really. They’ve seen the Disney film, and Little Golden Books, and merchandise of a huge variety, and they feel sure they must have read the book itself at some point in their childhood. But a little prompting or cross-questioning mostly resulted in these astonished people not really being familiar with the actual story in the actual book at all… I found this very interesting.
I put “Peter Pan” on my ‘to read’ list a couple of years ago, when Bob Carr (former NSW Premier) appeared on the ABC’s The Book Club. He had asked the panel to read it and their discussion was very interesting. He said, himself, that reading the book again as an adult had been quite a surprise to him, it was so different in reality to the way he had remembered it from his boyhood.
Peter Pan is a boy who will never grow old, or up, depending on your perspective. He visits children in their sleep, and when he comes upon Wendy Darling and she is awake and helps him re-attach his shadow, he decides to take her (and her two brothers, Michael and John) back with him to Neverland to be ‘mother’ to the Lost Boys. In Neverland they all have loads of jolly adventures, including defeating Captain Hook and the pirates, but in the end, Wendy and the boys want to go home, forsaking Peter for the inevitable ‘growing up’.
I did enjoy listening to this book, but I had a sad sense of melancholy throughout as it seemed obvious to me that Peter and the Lost Boys must have all really been dead children. The behaviour of the Darling parents, when we eventually revisited them, seemed to support this idea that really this was some sort of comforter for the parents of dead children.
I don’t know that this is right at all. It doesn’t fit with the (mostly) quite happy ending. But it affected my reading quite significantly. The narration, too, had an affect on me. The narrator (who used ‘we’ to suggest a group of story tellers – or to deflect personal responsibility) seemed quite put out, at times, to be burdened with the bother of telling the story. And he/she was so consistently rude, about everybody! Apparently, as a reader (listener) I wasn’t supposed to really care for any of the characters, definitely least of all, Peter.
A peculiar read to say the least, but one I’m glad to have ticked off my list.