Book Review: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Title: Peter Pan
Author: J.M. Barrie
Published: 1911
Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Synopsis: One starry night, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell lead the three Darling children over the rooftops of London and away to Neverland – the island where lost boys play, mermaids splash and fairies make mischief. But a villainous-looking gang of pirates lurk in the docks, led by the terrifying Captain James Hook. Magic and excitement are in the air, but if Captain Hook has his way, before long, someone will be walking the plank and swimming with the crocodiles…

My Rating: red-starred-starred-star

“Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.”

Once upon a time, a little girl watched Peter Pan as a child and she became enchanted with him and his story. So she waited night after night to see if Peter would come to her window, steal her to Neverland and have jolly good adventures. As the years went by it became obvious that Peter was not coming or maybe he only came to children in England and given that she was in a poor neighborhood in the Caribbean there was a high likelihood that he simply did not know the way. One night she realized she no longer waited for Peter and that was the day she grew, for all children must grow up.  All children, except one, grow up.

Mr. Barrie original wrote the story of Peter Pan as a play and it became successful enough that he eventually wrote the novel we have today. This book was good. It was good enough, it was a good skeleton but I have gotten so much out of the other adaptations that I felt a bit let down. This story is alive with pockets full of hidden meaning, Barrie will give you just enough and then allow you to make your own conclusions.

Let’s explore.

In terms of characters… the character of Peter Pan is a rather one-dimensional and I don’t think Barrie intended for us to sympathize too much with him. He is portrayed as a selfish child that has little thought of the thoughts of others. For Peter, it’s all about what Peter feels, Peter wants and what Peter will accomplish. He says “Oh, the cleverness of me!” which I believe embodies his sentiments as a whole. In Wendy, Barrie gives us the opposite as she embodies the role of the selfless mother, trapped in the body of a girl lusting after a boy to have him for her and only her. She worries for the boys and even holds Peter while he sleeps at night disturbed by nightmare. Yet at the same time suffers a bought of jealousy when she realizes Tiger Lily desires Peter the way one desires a partner. I am sure many a thesis papers have been written to highlight the significance of this – like do Peter and Wendy represent the two sides of the human persona. The part that longs to be selfish and stay a child versus the one that cares and doesn’t mind being an adult yet still holds a sense of self. It’s done so well, masterfully crafted and to be honest this is one of the most interesting aspects of this book. The study of character as representation to human archetype. Coming in to the soup of representation is Hook – a typical villain but is he only just a villain? I think not. Barrie requested that the actor who always played Mr. Darling – the children’s father be the one who also play Hook and in many films the same has been done. Mr. Darling is presented as a sensible man who calculates expenses to the penny, he cares for his children as a father should care in Victorian England which is just enough but not too much. Captain Hook, on the other hand, is the personification of villainy – he hunts down Peter as if his life depends on it, hating the cockiness of the boy. Hook, much like Mr. Darling are the forces that come to take fun away, to essentially take childhood away and that in itself make them representations of something else. The themes of growing up are bounced around in the novel and it makes it enchanting for that in itself.

Where Barrie looses me is in the plot which I believe has been improved greatly in films to tighten it and bring in more significance than just a study of character archetypes and the thematic of adulthood. So I ask myself – do I enjoy this book because the films have already given me so much (the 2003 version was spectacular especially in the representation of themes and the sexual undertones of growing up, etc) or do I enjoy this book because of what it is by itself? When I asked myself that question I realized that what I love, what I grade above all others is the encompassed body of work (films/plays) and writing relating to Peter Pan but the book by itself, as a stand-alone, is not as amazing as what I have garnered from the idea.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

  1. I never knew that about his wishes regarding the father and Captain Hook. Honestly, most of my experience with this story comes from the Disney adaptation, and the movie Hook. However, I too am reading this book, and I’m finding it quite interesting. Especially in how different the actual story is from the Disney adaptation.

    Liked by 1 person

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