Friday, May 13, 2011

Peter and Wendy: A Closer Look at the Novel

“All children, except one, grow up.”
Thus begins JM Barrie’s classic novel, Peter Pan, or Peter and Wendy. Honestly, its first line is as widely recognized as: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And like those famous first lines, this also foreshadows the novel’s themes: loss of innocence, growth, stunted youth. Not that what you love best about Peter Pan, is missing – fairy dust, mermaids, Neverland and of course, flying are all present in our Mabou Mines presentation of said story. However, like always, we are not afraid to bring you something more. Take a closer look at these excerpts from the novel to learn more about the wistful and mature themes that are woven through the story.
“At first Mrs. Darling did not know, but after thinking back into her childhood she just remembered a Peter Pan who was said to live with fairies. There were odd stories about him; as that when children died he went part of the way with them, so that they should not be frightened.”
Here Peter Pan is compared to the Greek god Hermes. Like the messenger god, Peter comes into contact regularly with death as a traveling companion to provide safe passageway for dead souls. How could one so innocent be entrusted with such a mission, even if he is a fairy? Easy. Peter is blissfully ignorant of the tragedy of death, as he makes clear in his famous line, “To die will be an awfully great adventure.” Do we envy Peter’s fearlessness, or pity his detached attitude?

 “You don’t feel, Peter,’ Wendy said falteringly, “that you would like to say anything to my parents about a very sweet subject?”
“About me, Peter?”
Ah, l’amore. Oh, the trials and tribulations of unrequited love. Isn’t it just the worst? You finally gather the courage for your very first kiss, and the boy doesn’t get it. Or how about when you have just had the adventure of your life with someone and they just walk away…did Joseph Gordon-Levitt prepare for 500 Days of Summer by reading the book? Entirely possible, since like Peter, Zooey Deschannel said, thanks, but no thanks. For kids, romance, marriage or the “off into the sunset” is how most animated feature films conclude and it is rare to see such bald rejection in any other story for young people, if it appears at all. JM Barrie does not stoop to changing Peter's personality to fit this mold and Peter is impervious to Wendy’s emotions.
“Why can’t you fly now, mother?”
“Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the way.”
“Why do they forget the way?”
“Because they are no longer gay and innocent and heartless. It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly.”
Poor Wendy is speaking from experience. Once one of the “gay and innocent and heartless” herself (and we mean heartless; really, who confuses your dad with the dog, even if you’ve been on vacation), she now finds herself on the other side. It’s cyclical, isn’t it? Wendy recognizes her past innocence and heartlessness, only to find it again in her daughter. Children are just that way, and it is a necessary trait if they want to go to Neverland, where they can wish top hats into chimneys and talk to mermaids. And as JM Barrie –and Steven Spielberg- taught us, Wendy’s daughter Jane to Jane’s daughter Margaret and so on, all grow through this cycle. But what of Peter, who is eternally heartless? How has this affected the boy we sometimes love, pity or even hate?  Mabou Mines weaves all of these themes into their retelling. Be ready for this beloved story to become even closer to your heart.
“There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a strange 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.”

More Peter Pan:
Read the classic novel. Rent from your local NYPL listing or buy online.
Most agree that the 2003 film is a true, intelligent and mature adaptation of Peter Pan. Add to Netflix.
Pretend you're eating Never-food when you try at red velvet doughnut at the Peter Pan Bakery.

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