I am a former journalist and English graduate who has given up her reporting career to look after her baby daughter. When I am not picking up toys and wiping up sweet potato puree I am establishing myself as a freelance writer.
Peter Pan and Wendy – Will he be flying by tonight?
Incredibly moving and wonderfully imaginative
A difficult first few chapters to get into
Would you read it again?
How does it compare to similar books?
How does it compare to other works by the same author?
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Peter Pan and Wendy by J M Barrie is an incredibly moving and poignant tale which is guaranteed to set the imaginations of both children and adults on fire.
The tale follows Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, from the time he meets Wendy and her brothers as children to when he returns to the nursery many years later to find Wendy a grown woman, whilst he is still a boy. In between, Peter takes Wendy to Neverland where she meets the Lost Boys, Captain Hook and his band of pirates, and their adventures together truly begin.
Much has been said about J M Barrie's personal life because of his close relationship with the Llewellyn Davies children whom he befriended and, on the deaths of their parents, took into his care. It has been insinuated, rather cruelly, that he was in fact a paedophile and he prayed on the five young boys.
In my opinion you only have to read Peter Pan and Wendy to understand he had no improper intentions towards those boys – in deed he was childlike himself and so therefore probably felt more comfortable associating with them than he did a lot of adults. He said the character of Peter Pan was based on aspects of all five of these boys but I feel, and I know others do too, that J M Barrie is more of a Peter Pan figure than those boys ever could be.
It is his childlike imagination and his extraordinary ability to create new worlds which ensures his tale of Peter Pan is such a wonderful and enduring one.
Peter Pan is a story of which I am very familiar but I realised recently that I had never actually read the book. This surprised me as I felt I knew the characters and the essential plot of a boy who does not want to grow up, so well. However, I think it is because the imagery and the characters in the book are so strong and have permeated so easily into modern day culture that we all feel we know more about Peter Pan the book than perhaps we do.
The book really left a lasting impression on me because it is so deeply moving. I am not ashamed to say the ending made me shed tears. Yes it is a story about a boy who does not want to grow up but what struck me more than this was how the tale surrounds itself very much around motherhood and the idea of mothering.
The action in the Darling household is all set in the womb-like territory of the nursery. Mrs Darling is the epitome of a nurturing mother. There are some incredibly endearing scenes such as how Mrs Darling goes through her children's minds once they are asleep to tidy them up for the next day, while Mrs Darling is also an amazingly caring and diligent mother. She loves and cares for her children more than any child could ever wish to be loved and cared for. As a reader we feel her anguish as she sees her children take off and fly away with Peter. We are urging them to come back for her sake, whilst her steadfastness in keeping the window open every night encase her children should come home leaves a lump in the throat.
We discover that Peter Pan's problem is not that he does not wish to grow up but that he cannot grow up because he does not have a mother figure to help him. Similarly the Lost Boys - who are indeed lost because they have no parents – are stuck in limbo in Neverland because they have no one to look after them and help them grow up into men. When Wendy arrives they are joyful at finally having a mother figure to look after them and Wendy embraces her new role. Even Captain Hook reminisces at one point about how it once was to be loved by a mother but then stops himself just in time before he softens completely.
I was a little afraid at first when I began reading Peter Pan as I felt the words did not flow very well. The language was a little stilted and J M Barrie immediately launched into some rather obscure metaphors such as Mrs Darling's kiss which were in danger of alienating a reader from continuing on with the book.
I found though as the story started to blossom with the arrival of Peter Pan, the language began to order itself and as the adventure truly began, J M Barrie began to paint a vivid and breathtaking picture of new lands and exciting characters with words which seemed to pour out of him as naturally as a waterfall.
The battle between Peter Pan and Captain Hook was exhilarating and provided some fantastic swash-buckling interludes within the main tale and it was interesting to learn more about the pirates who we see are far from two-dimensional bad guys but people with their own troubles and doubts. Even Hook we find has been led to his life of cruelty because of his past experiences.
It was also interesting to learn the true character of Tinkerbell as J M Barrie created her. Far from the angelic little fairy girls and women alike seem to idolise and name their dogs after, she is actually a little vixen of a woman who is intensely jealous at Peter's relationship with Wendy and is mischievous to the point of cruelty to Wendy at times.
I think Peter Pan's enduring appeal has been sealed through how J M Barrie mixes the realistic scenes of the nursery and the Darling household seamlessly with Neverland. It makes the possibly of Neverland very real and accessible to all children to the point they as readers feel they could easily get there themselves. All they have to hope is Peter Pan chooses their window to fly in to.
But I also enjoyed how the limits of reality are pushed even within the environment of the Darling home. Nana for example, who is put in charge of the Darling children, is a dog. And we have the strange scene in which Wendy sews Peter Pan's shadow back on again with a needle and thread.
J M Barrie's soul seeps right out of the pages of Peter Pan and Wendy. Here we have a childlike man with an incredibly active imagination who did little adventuring in his own life but was able to paint wonderful adventures on the page for children and adults to enjoy forever. He was an incredibly generous soul not only with his storytelling but with any profits he made from Peter Pan and Wendy. He wanted the children of Great Ormond Street Hospital to benefit from any profits he made from book sales and a share of the cover price still goes to the children at the hospital today. This is surely reason enough to buy a copy of the book if I have not been able to convince you in any other way.
I would say though Peter Pan is a wonderful read for all the family. Just look past the difficult language at the beginning and get your tissues ready for the end.