Peter and Wendy

 The play "Peter Pan" was meant as a play for adults, but it didn't take many years before the children got their own version of the story of Peter in Neverland. Just like the story of Peter in Kensington Gardens was first written for adults in "The Little White Bird" and later for children in "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens", the story about Peter in Neverland was first written for adults in "Peter Pan" and then for children in the children's book "Peter and Wendy" that was published in 1911.

 In “Peter and Wendy” the story is based on the lines and stage directions of the play and they don’t vary much, except for one thing, namely that Barrie has made "Peter and Wendy" into a battlefield between two types of language: Latinate prose as used in private schools and elementary English used in elementary schools. By using these two types of language, Barrie shows where the different characters are situated on the social ladder and through his use of a direct narrator, he comments on language as a social institution. He also shows a narrator in two minds, attracted and repelled by the Latinate prose of the private schools.

 Like the play, “Peter and Wendy” tells the story of Peter Pan who brings the Darling children Wendy, John and Michael to his make believe island Neverland in order to stop Wendy from growing up. At the island, they have different adventures with The Lost Boys, the fairy Tinker Bell, the red Indians lead by the Indian Princess Tiger Lily, the evil mermaids, the ticking crocodile and the pirates including the sinister Captain Hook and his helper Smee. Eventually the children return to London where Mr. and Mrs. Darling adopt the Lost Boys. Peter returns to Neverland, but promises to come back for Wendy each spring. Peter soon forgets about the Lost Boys, Captain Hook and Tinker Bell and eventually Wendy gets too old to go and then first her daughter Jane and later her granddaughter Margaret go in her place.

 “Peter and Wendy” is much gloomier and more merciless than the play, all the children hating adults, especially Peter. He is no longer the loving baby from Kensington Gardens, but instead a betwixt and between with the body of a teenager and the mind of a six year old. He is cynical and heartless and has no love for nature or animals anymore. He uses dirty tricks when he is fighting and he can actually be wounded, something that was impossible in the play where Peter could not be touched. In the play the events in Neverland were a product of Peter's imagination, but here in the children’s book Peter is a victim of the events. Because of this, Peter loses a good deal of his magical status.

 The sexuality is overwhelming in the children's book compared to the play, as the children's book is very much about sex change, jealousy and physical desire. The relationship between Peter and the fairies and amongst the fairies themselves is rather erotic and in the children's book Wendy is consumed by jealousy and a sexual desire that is much more tangible than in the play. In the children's book, Wendy also does something that she would never have done in the play: she falls in love with Captain Hook. Wendy's love for Peter doesn't die, though. In fact she is jealous of her own daughter in the children's book when Peter wants her to go with him to Neverland.

 All in all the children's book is much more direct and "adult" in the way it handles death and especially sexuality and it seems to address an adult audience more than the play did. But the book is written for children and the play for adults, so once again Barrie turns things upside down.

 “Peter and Wendy” is a true classic, so I’ll give it 4 out of 5 stars: ****

 © Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 1991