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"It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly."
on 26 August 2011
Everybody knows and loves Peter Pan -- the immortal, flying imp who lives in a floating otherworld, battles pirates, and never has to grow up.
And J.M. Barrie's classic tale "Peter Pan" really hasn't lost any of its charm, although those who have only seen the Disney movie may be shocked at how dark it can be at times. It's a strange, whimsical little story with a bittersweet edge, but it also reminds you about the allure of never growing up... even if it is necessary.
Young Wendy Darling is woken by a strange boy in her room, who has lost his shadow. That boy is Peter Pan, a flying boy from Neverland who regularly eavesdrops at her house because he likes the bedtime stories her mother tells. Since Wendy ALSO knows bedtime stories (and can potentially "make pockets"), Peter whisks Wendy and her brothers Michael and John off to Neverland.
However, Neverland is not a place devoid of dangers -- there is a pirate ship there (don't as me how; if it's explained, I don't remember), led by the villainous Captain Hook. Hook is constantly trying to kill Peter and his Lost Boys, and it doesn't take long for Wendy and the other boys to be captured. Can Peter save them from his archnemesis?
Children are "innocent and heartless" by nature, and it feels like "Peter Pan" was a homage to that -- it's a childish romp in a fantasyland, where kids can fly, fight pirates and have strange little adventures. Nobody really thinks about the families that are undoubtedly freaking out, or the lives they'll miss out on.
And really, that's part of its charm. It's a fluffy little fantasy story that could have been transcribed out of any child's imagination, with a colorful array of characters who could have been taken out of a Victorian kid's imaginary games (mermaids I understand, but why are there American Indians here? HOW did they get there?).
And Barrie spins out this story in the slightly twee style of Victorian kids' fiction, with lots of details and some charming scenes (the Lost Boys actually build a house AROUND WENDY). It gets a little cutesy at times (fairies are generated by.... baby laughter?) and the handling of the Indians is just horrible, but otherwise it's a fairly charming book.
But it's also darker than you would expect -- Tinkerbell tricks the Lost Boys into trying to kill Wendy, and at first it looks like she's managed. And Peter almost DIES. For real. Not to mention the final chapter, which is a giant lump of bittersweet.
Peter himself is a strangely enchanting figure -- he's almost like a lost Greek god, with a capricious ever-changing nature. And no matter what, you can never catch him or pin him down. As such, most of the other characters don't quite stand out as much, but they're all pleasantly handled -- particularly the three "normal" kids who are all too happy to go to Neverland, until they feel like going home again.
"Peter Pan" takes you briefly back into the experience of being a small child, when you can easily imagine yourself going anywhere at all while still staying "innocent and heartless." It has some flaws, but is charming nonetheless