Having decided that Alice in Wonderland might be a tad too confusing for the class I have in mind, I read Peter Pan for the first time to see if this would be a more appropriate choice. As with Alice this is story that I am sure everyone knows; from the 1953 Disney version to the 2003 adaptation, from Hook to Finding Neverland I would be surprised if you have managed to miss all links/associations to J.M.Barrie’s classic. But just incase…Wendy, John and Michael Darling are awoken in their nursery by Peter Pan, a boy who doesn’t want to grow up. With a little help from some fairy dust the Darling children soon fly off to Neverland and a world of adventures withThe Lost Boys, mermaids and the infamous pirate, Captain James Hook. The more time they spend in Neverland the more their memories of home, their parents and their Nanny, the dog, Nana, fade, leaving the reader unsure if they will ever return home and grow up.
I am sure it comes as no surprise to those who read children’s classics, that Peter Pan is another novel that has been well and truly Disneyfied. I watched the film at the weekend and as with all Disney films it is a feel good film, just what I love and expect from Disney. There is a reason Disney films are so popular, especially with a younger audience and even as an adult it is comforting to watch them again. However all this happy endings and romance in the film has replaced the darker elements from Barrie’s original work. Neverland isn’t a magical, fairy tale island. The Lost Boys, ‘Redskins’ and pirates are all enemies and when they fight, they kill. Peter Pan is not a carefree, loveable boy who refuses to grow up, he is actually pretty arrogant and spoilt. This is not a criticism, believe me. It makes the book much more interesting in my eyes and after reading this and Alice in Wonderland I am keen to read more stories behind some of my favourite Disney films to see how they are different.
The novel is full of memorable characters from the Disney version. I remember a few years ago watching the film and hating Wendy for being too simpering and girly, so I was glad that these qualities were not as overpowering in the novel. Captain Hook is exactly as all films depict him, looking somewhat regal with his Charles I (or II, I don’t know which). My favourite character has got to by the crocodile, who can help but admire a beast that ticks and spends its whole life chasing one person alone. I think it is the ticking I like the most.
Before reading Peter Pan I had very little knowledge of the origins of the character, despite having watched Finding Neverland, but then I am terrible at films. I am almost ashamed to say that I didn’t realise that Peter Pan started off as a play and was later adapted into the novel I read. Taken on face value this is a great story of adventure and is action packed and as I was reading it I could visualise different activities I could use when teaching it, which is fantastic. However in my research to find the true publication date of the novel version, I came across a much darker level to the novel that is certainly more interesting from an adult perspective and I think helps take the novel from just a story of magic lands and pirates. When Barrie was 6/7 his older brother tragically died in an ice skating accident, leaving their mother grieving and thus suffering from depression. Barrie tried his best to fill his older brother’s shoes, from wearing his clothes to speaking in a similar way, all to little effect. It is clear that this traumatic childhood event had a lifelong impact on Barrie and inspired his most famous character, especially as Peter refuses to grow up and Barrie’s own mother could never get over the image of her eldest son as a child. Arguably this is the reason why Barrie constantly alludes to a mother’s love and the need everyone has for a mother throughout the novel; the role of the father is barely touched upon, maybe because it was his mother’s grief that stuck in his mind. I’m undecided as to whether or not I will bring this element in to my teaching, but I know I would like to know more about how Barrie came to create such memorable characters.
Peter Pan counts towards my Reading the Twentieth Century challenge.
For some bizarre reason I couldn’t find this for free on the Kindle, so read this on my iPad. Needless to say, I do NOT like reading on my iPad. It seems really abnormal and the iPad is just not a comfortable size for holding/reading in bed and the light is irritating. I can of course see the benefits of being able to read books on your iPads/iPods/iPhones but it certainly isn’t for me.