Tonawanda News

October 15, 2012

BOOK NOOK: 'Peter Pan' a roller coaster of fun, emotion

By Dean Goranites
The Tonawanda News

— J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan and Wendy” was published in 1902 as a stage production, and released to generally positive reviews that would lead to a novelization of the story. It was published in book form in 1911.

Since then countless theatre and film adaptions have been produced, Disney’s 1953 animated feature perhaps the most famous. 

A story of youth, love, nostalgia, action and more, “Peter Pan and Wendy” has stood the test of time, providing quality plot with witty writing. A joy for both children and adults, the story is packed with interesting history and backstory, heightening the enjoyment for those looking to dig a bit deeper into the world of Neverland.

For example, outside of theater fans, many are unaware that Captain Hook, when portrayed on stage, is commonly played by the same actor assigned to the role of Wendy’s father — per Barrie’s request. While this is impossible to write into a novel, Barrie does his best to insinuate the connection, writing “Hook was not his true name. To reveal who he really was would even at this date set the country in a blaze.” 

The implications of such a link may provide little entertainment to children, but for adults, tossing the connections around between the two characters proves some fun mental stimulation. 

Of course, there’s plenty of action and excitement too — Peter getting stranded at the lagoon before being rescued in the nick of time, and Wendy being shot down by the Lost Boy’s arrow, narrowly avoiding death, are just two thrilling situations the children get caught up in. “Peter Pan and Wendy” defines children’s fantasy with its adventures.

Barrie knows when to pull back on the action as well, proving the lulls to be just as important as the climaxes. Periods of relaxation at home and with the mermaids, blend nicely into the tale. A similar story structure can be found in A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” series. There’s always an obstacle that needs climbing over, but never is the adventure frightful enough that it keeps a child’s mind stirring through the night. Chapters wrap up cleanly. Characters always narrowly escape danger. 

Another interesting tidbit? “Peter Pan and Wendy,” although now more than 100 years-old, has circumvented the normal rules of copyright. Most works, when copyrighted, are awarded 50 years of protection before entering public domain, allowing free access for individuals to press copies, create spinoffs and so on. However, when Barrie died, he had it written into his will that all proceeds from the sale of “Peter Pan and Wendy” were to go to Great Ormond Street Hospital, located in London, England. England has since provided certain exceptions to the public domain access of the book, allowing the hospital to continue to benefit from Barrie’s request.

The last chapter of “Peter Pan and Wendy” is where the best content of the story lies, and sadly is the most commonly omitted part of the tale. This isn’t without reason — it is an emotional roller coaster of an epilogue that may not fair well with children. Focusing on the aging of Wendy, these last few pages describe the terror in Peter’s face when confronting his long-lost friend. It is heart wrenching. However, it gives what would otherwise be a simple fairy tale real emotion. Barrie wraps up the ending nicely, which won’t be spoiled here, but rest assured Peter’s pain isn’t the note the story ends on. 

One last interesting fact: Barrie crafted the story of Peter Pan around a neighborhood friend’s children, telling them the stories of Neverland and incorporating characters based off of their characteristics. Imagine being able to say a character as brilliant as Peter Pan was crafted after yourself. When the children’s parents tragically past away, Barrie adopted the siblings and brought them into his family. A sad story, yes, but a warm ending indeed.

Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at unleashthis.tumblr.com, and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.

• WHAT: "Peter Pan and Wendy"

• BY: J.M. Barrie

• GRADE: B