Saturday, October 27, 2007

Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan is interesting because there really is no definitive text for him: Author J.M. Barrie first conceived of him as a baby wandering around London's Kensington Gardens in the novel The Little White Bird, and then wrote a play about him in his more familiar form. The play went on for a long time, often with changes made to the plot from year to year--at one point, Peter had a goat, for instance--and then finally Barrie novelized Peter in Peter and Wendy.

I liked this book much more than I expected to. It's much more complex than the Disney version, which is sort of simplistic in its idealization of Peter. In the book, Peter is a much more complex and tragic figure--he's vain, self-centered, forgetful, violent, and foolish. And Tinker Bell is just a bitch. Peter and Wendy is full of allusions to sex--like the way that Peter fails to understand how "interested" Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, and Wendy are in him--and death--like Hook's ticking crocodile, which is one of the best metaphors for death that exists in English literature. Peter and Wendy is great because it's dark, sarcastic, and ultimately heartbreaking. At the end, Peter agrees to come back in the spring every year for Wendy (to help with spring-cleaning), but he misses a year, and when he comes back the following year, he doesn't notice that he's missed one. This is a passage from that part:

"Who is Captain Hook?" he asked with interest when she spoke of the arch enemy.

"Don't you remember," she asked, amazed, "how you killed him and saved all our lives?"

"I forget them after I kill them" he replied carelessly.

When she expressed a doubtful hope that Tinker Bell would be glad to see her he said, "Who is Tinker Bell?"

"O Peter," she said, shocked; but even when she explained he could not remember.

"There are such a lot of them," he said. "I expect she is no more."

I expect he was right, for fairies don't live long, but they are so little that a short time seems a good while to them.

How fucking sad is that? After that, he misses whole decades before returning again for Wendy, and by then she has a child of her own. Peter is as forgetful as a child; that is his virtue and his shortcoming. I think perhaps too many children's books extol the virtues of the innocence of youth without any reservations. Peter and Wendy recognizes that growing up is both a tragedy and a triumph; that's what I think is so great about it.


Carlton said...

This was a really good review.
I really like Hook.

Carlton said...

Rufio! Rufio!

Nihil Novum said...

Let down your hair!