Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: Peter Pan

Title: Peter Pan (also known as The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up or Peter and Wendy)
Author: Sir James Matthew Barrie (Scottish novelist and playwright)
Release Date: 1911
Genre: adventure, fantasy, family, pirates, children, friendship, motherhood, coming of age, magic
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: children's book
Age Group: 10+

Peter Pan sneaks into bedroom windows, kidnaps children, and brings them to Neverland--boys though, always boys. Then one fateful night he loses his shadow, and it's a girl (Wendy Darling) who figures out how to reattach it by sewing it back on. Peter is delighted, and decides his Lost Boys need a mother. He, of course, has no need for a mother. But the Lost Boys do, and Wendy's little brothers John and Michael can join them.
So off they fly to Neverland where they have great adventures, don't grow up, start to lose their memory, and quite honestly don't learn anything that will advance their moral development. When an attempt to return home is thwarted by Peter's greatest enemy, Captain Hook (feared even by Long John Silver, who is the only man Flint feared), Peter must save the day. Can he? What happens if he does?

Word of Warning
  • Everything is a game to Peter, and games are very real. Sometimes, he imagines that all the boys have eaten, and so no one is allowed a real meal because of this.
  • Peter is all about adventure. Killing is just an adventure. Death? "The greatest adventure of them all."
  • Peter apparently cut off Hook's hand and fed it to a crocadile.
  • Hook kills people ruthlessly.
  • The natives of the island are called redskins.
  • Everything on the island is very childish. There's nothing wrong with children and childishness, but Barrie shows a world where childishness goes unguided and causes great horrors.
  • Tinker Bell has quite the mouth on her! She says the word a** several times, and other times is said to have sworn but we are not given her exact words.
  • All sorts of vices. Pride, jealousy, disobedience because it is fun, and so on. Remember, these are children who have no guidance.
  • Peter's a bit of a jerk. Ok, a lot of a jerk, but a charming jerk so people tend to forgive him.
  • The Lost Boys cannot see women for anything other than their potential to be mothers. While seeing the potential to be a mother is a beautiful thing, it's also short sighted to not look beyond fulfilling the need the boys have for a mother by using whatever woman happens by as such.
  • There is a common misconception, probably due to Disney's movie, that Peter is a hero and Hook is a horrible person. In the book, this isn't nearly as clear. In fact, there is an argument to be made that it could be the other way around. Basically, the warning here is not to improperly idolize Peter.

My Thoughts
It's a fun, easy to read book. I don't think it was written as a theological study on the right way of living, facing reality (acceptance), growing up, motherhood, and children. It's too free and disconnected for that.
But it's there anyway. This is a fascinating fun little story that goes much farther than the adventures Disney shows us. It digs deep into the heart of the human being and what is needed in order to live a full life.
But, you know, if you just want some fun reading and not too much thinking, this is still a great book. Because on the surface, that's what it is. Plus, it has a fantastic writing style that's carefree and gives the tone of childish to Neverland. And it's a blast to find all the references to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, which, yes, were intentional.
 Below that though, there is something very interesting going on in the story that merits deeper study if one is up to the challenge.


grandma jane said...

We'll never think of Peter in the same way.... Nicely done!

RealMom4Life said...

looks like I have my next book to read

grandma jane said...

I'm thinking maybe RealMom has finished reading so I can post this.

After reading your review, I decided to re-read this classic, having been many years. So I downloaded the original story from Gutenberg and had much fun reading, especially the language twists.

I have to agree with your statement that "there is something very interesting going on..." --I would actually call it disturbing, and it was no more apparent than near the end.

For sure it presents a different message depending on whether you're reading from the perspective of an adult vs a child.

Thank you again for a fine review and for making me pick up the book and re-read!

Maria Gianna said...

grandma jane,

I'm thrilled to hear my review prompted a reread! It really is a fun read and full of fantastic language twists. My students who like puns were especially entertained. I too enjoyed a fun read that had deeper themes even while being easy to read.
I agree. Disturbing is a very good word to describe what is happening with these characters. It's just fascinating that this all happened apparently unintentionally (as there is no indication that the author was actually trying to be so theological). And yes, it really does not get resolved. It was frustrating, because for a moment I was sure it would.
Yes, depending on the age the message is very very different.
When paired with a careful reading of George MacDonald's "The Light Princess," some very interesting things come to light.
Glad to hear you enjoyed it!
And thank you for your continued visits to the blog :)