Author: J.M. Barrie
Category: I got the desire to read this after seeing a great performance of Peter Pan at Playhouse on the Square. Bonus: I know the actors who played Peter Pan and Captain Hook.
My thoughts: I’m glad I finally read this book. I think most people in the Western world have seen some version of Peter Pan, so the plot is not unfamiliar. I really liked how Peter Pan (the character) is the essence and manifestation of childhood itself. He forgets things quickly and is more than a little selfish. He has a strong sense of fairness but doesn't think about the feelings of others—it makes you wonder when, during our development, we develop empathy (some, of course, never do). Reading about Peter, I thought about how children have absolutely no filter and are brutally honest in ways that you can’t help but laugh at (most of the time).
I wonder if this book was one of the first portrayals of childhood and children’s wonder as an important thing. That wonder is epitomized by the moment of the book (and my favorite moment of the play) where Peter asks children if they believe in fairies. I remember being a child and seeing Peter Pan on stage and believing in fairies with every fiber of my being. As an adult watching the play and seeing the children around me have that same reaction…well, I cried. It reminds me of the response to Virginia’s letter about Santa Claus. That makes me cry too.
And the book hints with the first sentence (“All children, except one, grow up”) at the loss of innocence that happens when children grow up and don’t believe in fairies anymore. The end of Peter Pan, when Wendy mentions that she’s forgotten how to fly, reminds me of the song Puff the Magic Dragon. The novel of Peter Pan is actually a little more violent than the play and the movies versions I've seen. Or maybe I've gotten too used to sanitized children’s tales.
J.M. Barrie’s writing style is really good. The voice of the narrator is very cozy to the reader, and is akin to the narrator in Washington Square. I love this sentence: “In fanciful stories people can talk to the birds freely, and I wash for the moment I could pretend that this was such a story, and say that Peter replied intelligently to the Never bird; but truth is best, and I want to tell only what really happened.” Yes, truth is best. One not-so-great thing about Peter Pan is its uncomfortable portrayal of Native Americans as savages. It reminds me of the stereotypical portrayal of Jewish businessman Sim Rosedale in The House of Mirth.
Great passage: Quite near the rock, but out of sight, two heads were bobbing up and down, Peter’s and Wendy’s. Wendy was crying, for it was the first tragedy she had seen. Peter had seen many tragedies, but he had forgotten them all. He was less sorry than Wendy for Tiger Lily: it was the two against one that angered him, and he meant to save her. An easy way would have been to wait until the pirates had gone, but he was never one to choose the easy way.