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Peter PanPeter Pan by J.M. Barrie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.”

I’m surprised I didn’t get round to picking this up when I was younger. It’s a lovely book, perfect for children and full of all the little quirks and funny thoughts that kids have at that age. I had a lot of fun comparing the Disney version with the original and discovering that there was quite a bit more to the story than I thought.

“There is a saying in the Neverland that, every time you breathe, a grown-up dies.”

The language is typical of its time; a few words like ‘mea culpa’ and the likes might baffle todays younger audience (and even the older ones I might venture to add) so have that dictionary at hand to quench the thirst of inquiring minds. But on the other hand it’s nice to have the occasional hard phrase in there. I don’t like it when authors dumb down the text for children. If they don’t come across these words in books then when will they ever learn them? It’s also a reflection of how Barrie always revered and respected the intelligence of his audience.

The story itself is a lot more than just a fantasy adventure. If we look beyond the rambunctious Peter, the naughty Tinkerbell and the awe-inspiring Neverland, there are some very important lessons to be had. A few years ago I happened to watch a documentary all about Barrie’s life and work and was particularly fascinated by the incredibly morbid subtext of ‘Peter Pan’. Academics have it that the novel was based on Barrie’s own experience of child-loss within his family. Before he was born his mother had given birth to a boy who died not long after. With his birth, he had not only inherited the dead child’s name, but also grew up hearing about it. If living in the shadow of a brother you never knew wasn’t bad enough, Barrie was also to experience the further loss of a younger sibling that would leave an everlasting impression on his psyche.

“There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.”

The notion of ‘never growing up’ was inspired by the death of these children, as the worst thing any family who has suffered a similar loss is the notion that they will never get to see their children grow up. ‘Neverland’ therefore is the aptly named heaven for such lost souls. A child’s paradise full of adventure and all sorts of fun things. But as Barrie is adamant to underline, it is ‘Never’ land after all, and a place no child should really end up going to.

“To live will be a great adventure.”

Therefore I had a few mixed feelings before I started this one, but to my relief found no overly morbid indicators as to the origins of the tale. Instead, the motif of ‘mother’ is worked over and over again, as if the sanctity of the home for the good of children and also some hints as to how parents (especially father’s) should never take their children for granted or worse, consider them a burden. There are, in short, lessons for all to be had, if you know where to look.

Definitely a read for bedtime, as children will love looking forward to the next chapter every night.

Note: My version was an audiobook accessed via Librivox.

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