Peter Pan By James M. Barrie

This book has been made into so many plays, movies, cartoons, and spin-off pre/sequels that its plot almost needs no introduction. I personally picked up the book because I had seen the movies, and try to read the books behind the films I watch whenever possible. Preferably before seeing the movie; as best I can recall, I saw two cartoons, one play, and four movie versions before realizing it was a book in the first place. It should be noted that I enjoyed every single version of the story, except the book, which you might as well know right now was a big disappointment to me. The story of a eternally youthful boy and his fairy friends who can fly is a really fun one, and since reading the book I have seen/heard/read other incarnations of the story that show how (forgive the expression), totally cool it can be. The book is different from the many multi-media incarnations, so I will summarize the plot though, I suspect, most of the details are not necessary. Actually, I wonder how many of the people who visit this site have ever heard of Peter Pan, and where from. A show of hands in the commentary section would be interesting.

Plot: A perpetually young boy named Peter Pan, who dresses in green leafy-ish clothing, spies on a group of children in a London home, because the oldest girl tells good stories. When said girl is considered old enough for her own room by her parents, the children (and Peter Pan) consider this a calamity, and they all go with Peter to Never Land. There they have lots of adventures centering around the fairies (of whom Tinker Bell, who Peter ignores mostly, is in love with Peter), the Indians (of whom Tiger Lily, who Peter ignores mostly, is in love with Peter), the pirates (who want to kill Peter Pan, especially Captain Hook, who really wants to kill Peter Pan), the mermaids (all of whom are in love with Peter Pan but whom he mostly ignores), the crocodile (who wants to eat everybody in general but Captain Hook in particular, because he already got a taste from Hook’s hand that Peter fed him [ergo the hook]), the Lost Boys (a group of boys also on the island and under Peter’s leadership). and the children (of whom Wendy, the oldest girl, is mostly ignored by Peter but loves him just like every other female on the island). Along the way… Hook kills crew members at random; Peter Pan takes credit for every heroic action by any of the secondary good characters by declaring “oh the cleverness of me” at the end and beginning and middle and mid-middle and sort of middle of every adventure; every female on the island except possibly a few mermaids is held hostage at one point or another, all attempts to rescue them being sabotaged by the other females; Peter Pan declares “oh the cleverness of me” every time he forgets something, to drive home the point that his memory is short; the author narrates about children being young and heartless as their motivating factor for every decision; Peter Pan says “oh the cleverness of me” at the end of every conversation; the crocodile chases everybody; the author narrates that children are young and heartless; and, Peter tries to have other people say “oh the cleverness of you” every time he utters a sentence, thankfully to no avail.

SPIOILERS: In the end, all the boys of Never Land go back to the way they were before, except with parents now in some cases, and all the girls go back to the way they were before, except more jealous of Peter’s affections. The children from London are back to normal too, except Wendy; she is in love with Peter, and gives him her first kiss (for no good reason except she wants him to remember to come back to her), just before he forgets her. Peter Pan comes back to Wendy’s house every twenty years to take her daughter, and then her granddaughter, and so on and so forth, with him to Never Land, and the process repeats itself. The last sentence in the book? “And so it will always be, as long as children are young and heartless.”

My overall opinion of this book is very low, despite my enjoyment of the other, multi-media affairs it inspired. I can see why kids would enjoy the idea of Peter Pan (flying around, never having to get old, not having any responsibilities; this part, as a kid myself when I read the book, I might have found intriguing), but the execution is so dark that I couldn’t enjoy the fun parts. “Peter Pan” doesn’t read like a children’s book; between being told how heartless the kiddies are, and watching every female under the age of thirty fall madly in love with Peter Pan, the whole story gets simultaneously old and depressing by about chapter three. The violent content is disproportionately high, and to detail all the blood/violent/torture/tense scenes would take almost a book in itself (HINT: the phrase “the Disney version” originated with this movie). Also, all of the female characters are equipped with half a brain each; to his credit, James Barrie is very fair, and gives the other halves to the boys. Apparently, these brains were stolen from the white adults in the story (none of whom do anything remotely intelligent, ever), though the Indians are shown to be very clever. Peter Pan himself is clever whenever he does something without saying “oh the cleverness of me” within a paragraph of the act, which is about twice in all of 380 pages. Not a recommended read, except to say you read it.

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5 thoughts on “Peter Pan By James M. Barrie

  1. Hey. Thanks for the nice review. Well, I thought it was nice even though Barrie probably wouldn’t have. 🙂 I love the droll manner in which you wrote about the love geometry (certainly not a love triangle…). Very well put.

    Thanks

  2. You got it right on! I remember reading this book at 10(?) and hating it! You covered just about everything that I remember disliking about it. I first met Peter in the animated Disney version, and that is still where I like him best. The recent, live-action version did a good job of capturing the dark spirit of the book, and the orginal play is kind of weird! : )

    Anyways…thanks for this review. It is a definite asset to the site.

    BTW, I have not seen the Johnny Depp/Kate Winslet film “Finding Neverland.” In your opinion, does it give a good background to the writing of the story?

  3. Well, I hadn’t ever read the original Peter Pan and now I doubt, that I will. I grew up on the Disney version and I watched an old movie version (but that stunk as Peter was portrayed by a girl). Actually, Peter has traditionally been played by a girl. (gag)

    🙂 Oh well, the Disney sequel to Peter Pan wasn’t to bad (as Disney sequels go). I preferred the Dave Barry incarnation myself.

    Stephen, so you have a name or link to the new version you mentioned? I was not aware that anything new had been written.

  4. Thank guys; nice to know hating “Peter Pan” is not just a girl thing.

    As for “Finding Neverland”, the film, I think it is fairly historically accurate. The whole adultery aspect of Barrie’s relationship was toned down for it, I heard, but otherwise it sounds fairly accurate.

    To answer Matt’s question, there is a new version of Peter Pan out; its called “Peter Pan In Scarlett”, and its like a sequel of some kind, I think. Don’t know much abouut it; I just borrowed it from the library today (hey, satire is fun!)

  5. Pingback: Conservative Book Talk » Blog Archive » Peter Pan In Scarlet, by Geraldine McCaughrean

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