The boy who never grew up. The girl who knew she was going to grow up. Pirates and Indians, fairies and crocodiles—imagination and reality are wonderfully blended in this story.
Would you believe I wasn’t allowed to read it when I was a kid? I heard the name many times, and gathered a confused idea of the plot, with images from the Disney animated version vaguely attached to it, but the first time I read the book was only a couple years ago. At that time, I was rather unimpressed. It was a cute story, but I already knew how it turned out, so the suspense was ruined, and I did not see other elements in the tale that made up for this lack.
However, this last week I read it again (listened to it, in fact, on the Classic Tales Podcast), and I liked it quite a bit more this time around.
The plot itself is quite simple: The Darling children set out with Peter Pan to fly to Neverland, the island of every child’s imagination. They have many adventures, but at last Wendy realizes that they need to go back home to their parents. They invite Peter and the “lost boys” to come with them, but Peter is determined to never grow up, and so he refuses to come. Just when they are ready to set out, their camp is attacked by Hook and his pirate dogs, and all the children are captured, except Peter, who rescues them. They kill all the pirates (except Hook, who is eaten by a crocodile), and finally make it back home to the Darling parents.
The real joy of the book, however, are the three main character arcs: Peter and Wendy, Peter and Hook, and the Darling children and Darling parents. Around these relationships are built the events of the book, and they each change over the course of the story. I love the Darling parents, even though they are only at the beginning and end of the book—Mr. Darling is especially funny. Wendy starts by just wanting to mother all the boys on the island, but by the end of the book she realizes she doesn’t want to mother Peter exactly, while Peter is oblivious and self-centered the whole way through.
This book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. You may love it, but you may be left nonplussed. Whether you like it or not will depend, I think, on your reaction to the character of Peter. He does not abide by any laws but his own, and he is at times guilty of the most appalling bad form, as Hook triumphantly noted right before his death. At the same time, he is delightful fun: his rollicking spirit drives the book throughout. For me, he was not a character I could sympathize with or connect to, but I greatly enjoyed watching him.
The “reality” of the book is in it’s view of children’s minds: the author understands how they think. Every child has an imaginary land—whether it is Narnia or Neverland or some other—and a child’s imaginings are perfectly captured in Peter Pan.