Children’s Book Reviewed by Dad: Peter Pan

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Being 6 years old when Hook came out, I was a big fan, but not one of those fans that remembers all of the lines of the movie. I just liked it. However, I am not sure I fully grasped all of the nuances of the movie, even watching it when I was older.  Only now, after reading this book do I better understand the movie. Though I don’t remember it well, I know I have seen the Disney animated movie version of Peter Pan too.  I remember Peter entering the children’s room and flying around trying to catch his shadow, which Wendy then sews onto his feet.  That’s pretty much all I recall of it right now.  So I have, for a long time, known the idea of Peter Pan and Neverland, but I didn’t really understand it.  (Also, Finding Neverland is a great movie.)

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Someone passed down the full version of Peter Pan to us when Kait got pregnant.  Though Weston is far too young for this book, or really any book, we love to read to him and believe it to be a good practice for his development in this world.  One day Kait started reading Peter Pan to Weston, and I was annoyed she started it without me because I had never read or known the full story!  So, now we read it together as a family as part of Weston’s bedtime routine.   Sometimes Avett has to be kicked out of the room because he gets too rambunctious, but otherwise the whole gang is there.

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Kait and I take turns reading the book out loud depending on who is holding or doing something with Weston.  Holy Shit, this book brings out every damn reading out loud in class insecurity I have ever had throughout my school career – which was that I never wanted to do it.  I am a slow reader, and I’m cool with it.  My reading style works for me, I can’t do it fast or for very long.  Typically short and slow works great for me.  Reading out loud is a whole other ballgame. I haven’t done it in years.  And the way this book is written is insane.

J.M. Barrie uses words that neither of us are familiar with or can pronounce.  His sentences are so long with seemingly random punctuation and extremely confusing phrasing.  His imagination is incredibly bonkers, in a good way, but at times a little creepy.  I find that he toes the line before part of the story seems to get really creepy, he brings it back.  All of this is definitely a reflection of the time that J.M. Barrie was alive and the book was written.  He lived from 1860-1937, and Peter Pan was first published as a play in 1904.  Perhaps the language in the book is not only challenging for me because of the time, but also because he was from the UK.  

The book is racist with the “redskins”, as well as very sexist with the fairies, mother aspect, and mermaids.  Kait and I found it to be very strange that a huge part of the story was about wanting a mother.  I do understand that the lost boys and Peter are missing a mother, and children need their mother; but to the extent at which the story goes into them playing house and playing as if Wendy is the mother and Peter the father, is very interesting. 

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SIDE NOTE: The Disney version is also very sexist, no surprise, as to the time of the movie.  The animation of tinkerbell and the mermaids is specifically sexist, and there are scenes clearly offensive towards Native Americans.

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The jacket of this 100th edition (not sure how this book is the 100th anniversary edition if it was published in 1987) states, “…his early years were lonely and deeply marred by the accidental death of his thirteen-year-old brother.  In the 1890s he began to write for the London stage, beginning his long career as a successful playwright. During his lifetime, J.M. Barrie wrote six novels for adults and more than forty plays, but Peter Pan is the only book he wrote for children. Perhaps ironically, it is his most famous and enduring work.”

I stand by my notion that Peter Pan is not a children’s book, just as Walt Disney had always stated his movies and animations were not for children.  There are, of course, movies and shows made specifically for children – especially now.  However,  the Disney and Pixar movies released in theaters have aspects that children enjoy, but they are also for adults.  I should also state that I love Disney and Pixar movies.  I believe they are brilliant, from the very first Mikey Mouse cartoon Plane Crazy, to the first with synchronized sound (Steamboat Willie), to the use of Technicolor, to the first feature length animated film Snow White, to Toy Story, and now to the new animated and live action versions of stories such as Lion King and Jungle Book.  The live action and animation has actually always been a huge part of Walt Disney’s work, all the way from his very first Alice Comedies that got him started through to his most successful movie, Mary Poppins.

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Walt Disney – Combining Live Action and Animation

Peter Pan was a book possibly written with children in mind, but it is from the perspective of someone who has experienced and understands something deeper we only know as we grow up and reflect.  Peter is a symbol of childhood and the imagination, the freedom.  He is a form of awareness and freedom that we tend to lose as we “grow up” because we get more caught up with the ego and societal norms.  Peter Pan and Neverland live in the dreams of children, in their mind which is much more imaginative than adults who are driven by the ego. 

It’s clear to me that he just wrote straight from his imagination, as it played out in his head, as if we, the reader, would be able to pick up on all of the nuances already ingrained in his imagination.  I found this more challenging to understand when I was reading, than when I was listening to Kait read. 

I do not love the illustrations in this particular version.  They are generally a bit dark and creepy.  The children’s faces all look evil and it’s difficult to make out what is going on in the scenes.  But I can’t apply that to the entire book because I do find some of the illustrations to be quite wonderful.

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With the release of Disney+ on November 12, Kait and I decided to watch Peter Pan since we had just finished the book the night before. The Disney version of Peter Pan is a very light hearted and an abbreviated version of the story, which makes a lot of sense.  It is enjoyable and more humorous than the book.  The book takes dark turns with killings, and a fair amount of death.  In the movie, Tink doesn’t talk, which Kait reminded me is because she communicates through the sounds of a bell; so it makes sense that we can’t understand her because humans can’t understand her.  The movie was good, quite good, better than I remembered. 

Screen Shot 2019-11-14 at 9.04.18 PM.pngAlso, interestingly, Pan is a god in Greek mythology, which I did not know until my sister-in-law told us the other day.  Pan is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, rustic music.  There is a lot in the story of Peter Pan that kind of pays homage to Pan the god, such as the syrinx or panpipes he plays.  He was known as odd and unattractive, which may explain the creepy illustrations in the book.

At the end of the book, Peter was bitter and only wanted his way.  He was angry that others wanted to grow up when he didn’t.  He was selfish and truly only cared about himself, which is an interesting aspect of childhood awareness that doesn’t see beyond the self.  Peter, like many children, struggle to understand perspectives other than their own.  As children we really only tend to exist in our own little world with little thought or care to anything beyond that.  Peter Pan exhibits little empathy, little emotional intelligence, and little connection to others – though he possesses an organic connection to nature that we tend to lose as we “grow up”.  There’s something beautiful about it, and yet something tragic.  However, Pan would never say it’s tragic, and perhaps to think that  it is tragic is the conditioned egoic part of me.  In contrast, Wendy, Michael, John, and the lost boys desired to grow up and interact with the world. 

Peter Pan is a much more complex story than I ever knew and there is a lot to consider in this story.  I am excited to read the book again when Weston is a little older and then I can gain an even better understanding.

Despite the negatives I mentioned, in the end, I found the story of Peter Pan to be quite good FORM!

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https://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/Pan/pan.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan_(god)

 

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