Happy Friday, Bookworms!
Have you ever noticed that stories you knew as a child take on a very different meaning as you grow up? I was struck with just such a conundrum this week as I read (for the first time) Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie. That’s not to say I wasn’t familiar with the adventures of the one and only Peter Pan. Far from it.
We didn’t own the Disney version of Peter Pan– this is probably due to the fact that Disney randomly pulls movies off the shelves for periods of time and it wasn’t available when I was in my prime Pan years. We did, however, own a VHS recording of the glorious 1960 production of Peter Pan the musical starring Mary Martin. I watched it often, which is kind of weird, because it always creeped me out a bit. I was particularly bothered by the cake Captain Hook tried to lure the Lost Boys into eating, because despite the sinister green frosting, I was certain “so damp and rich a cake” would be delicious. (Even if it was poisoned.) I hoped that in reading the book, my brain could conjure up the magic of Neverland better than a full grown woman playing a 10 year old boy…
Magic my brain could not conjure, but creepiness? Creepiness came through in spades. First. Barrie kept emphasizing that Peter Pan still had all his baby teeth, though he was about 10 years old. That would look really weird, you know? Kids start losing teeth between the ages of 4 and 7… A normal 10 year old would have regular teeth. The idea of Peter wandering around Neverland with teeny tiny chicklets all up in his mug seriously bothered me.
I realize the play was originally written in 1904, so expecting cultural sensitivity is a little unfair of me. However, I’m pretty sure Native Americans don’t relish being referred to as “redskins” or “savages” even in whimsical children’s literature. The book didn’t give a particularly flattering portrayal of females either. Tinkerbell was a serious biz-nitch, and the mermaids were nasty wasty skunks. All Wendy ever wanted to do- even in NEVERLAND- was play mother to a troop of boys. Why couldn’t WENDY go out and have the adventures? Why was she always doing laundry?!
And that Peter Pan? I’ve heard of Peter Pan syndrome- it’s applied to men who refuse to grow up and won’t commit to a relationship. Basically they’re pretty big douchebags. However. The name of this syndrome is even more appropriate than I realized, because Peter was kind of an ass. Seriously. Peter Pan is a rather cultish figure, if you think about it. He entices children to run away with him. He’s so completely invested in the illusion that he literally cannot tell if he and the Lost Boys are consuming real food or just pretending. (Which means he starves them half the time. Bad form, Peter!) He gets the boys into deadly confrontations with the “redskins” and pirates. Deadly, yo. These little boys are slaughtering people. What the what? Adventures, indeed! Hmph.
Now that I’ve eviscerated a timeless children’s classic, do I have anything nice to say? Sure. Nana was awesome. Any dog that can play nursemaid is a-okay in my book. I also rather enjoyed that Mr. Darling chose to punish himself after the children ran off by living in Nana’s kennel. That was amusing. And Smee. There’s something utterly charming about a pirate that has no idea how darn cute he is. I don’t know why, but Peter and Wendy just didn’t engage my childish wonder the way I’d hoped it would. (Although Hook, the 90s remake of Peter Pan starring Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman? THAT is a good time right there. I hate myself for liking a movie better than a book, but there it is. Please don’t shun me.)
What’s the moral of the tale of Katie and Peter Pan? Always go into classic children’s literature expecting it to be darker and creepier than you remember. I’m always able to remember this when heading into traditional fairy tales, but I suppose I should amend my theory to include any books with fairies as characters as well. Second star to the right and straight on till morning, Bookworms.
Have any of you ever revisited a childhood story and found it stranger than you recall? Tell me I’m not alone here!