Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We're following the leader, the leader, the leader...

We're following the leader, wherever he may go! Tee-dum, tee-dee, a-teedly-dom-tee-day...

Ahem. I may have watched Disney's version of Peter Pan just a few too many times as a child. I actually woke up with this song stuck in my head on Christmas morning a couple of months ago, no idea why. ANYWAY, as you may have gathered, I recently read J.M. Barrie's original story of the children's classic, Peter Pan. This is one of my favorite tales of all time. I loved the Disney animation (as you've already figured out), I loved the Mary Martin production, I loved Hook, I loved every version of the story I ever saw created, performed, or written. Oddly enough, however, I had never read the original story, at least not until a few months ago. I put it on my Fill-in-the-Gaps list for that very reason, and now I have read it.

Interestingly enough, Peter Pan was originally a short story in a book for adults, which was then adapted into a stage play, and then adapted again to be a children's story. You all know the general story of Peter Pan, right? Peter finds his way into the nursery of Wendy, John, and Michael Darling; he loses his shadow and Wendy wakes to find him crying; she sews his shadow on again and he takes them all away to Neverland. There they have adventures with the Lost Boys and the Indians and the dastardly Captain Hook and his crew. What I probably could have guessed (but didn't entirely realize) is that the familiar treatments of this story are prettied up. Barrie's original tale is a bit weirder, a bit wittier, a bit more sinister than we've been led to believe. The story is essentially the same, down to Nana, the children's doggie governess, but there is a distinctly different tone to the story.

Barrie clearly conveys sort of supernatural elements - he refers to Mrs. Darling cleaning up her children's minds when they've fallen asleep, similar to tidying the nursery only with their thoughts. He talks of Neverland being a place in the minds of the children, and yet they seem to physically travel there - they are absent from their parents for months during their adventures, and their parents are very sad. Peter is arrogant in all of the stories - that's part of his infinite boyhood - but he doesn't even make sense in his arrogance in Barrie's story, which I think is very true to the actual arrogance of a child. The story is also more bloodthirsty than the children's tales to which I'm accustomed. There is no shying away on the part of the Lost Boys or the pirates or the Indians about taking a life - they're at war with one another, and that's how it is. I do think children's minds work that way; it's just we as adults want to convince ourselves that they don't, so we try to make children's stories softer than that.

There are also some pretty funny comments in the book, particularly revolving around Peter and Captain Hook. I was particularly amused by the background on Hook and his extreme concern for good form. Barrie has a dry sense of humor, which I really enjoyed. Despite the humor that was clearly written to appeal to adults, the book as a whole seems very childlike to me, in a very honest way. It's not sugar-coated and sweet; it's odd and cruel and innocent simultaneously. I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would, in part because it was different from the other versions of the story I'd seen previously. 5 of 5 stars!

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