3. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

AUTHOR: J.M. Barrie
PUBLISHED: Barnes & Noble 2005
PAGE COUNT: 208 [There’s an introduction by Amy Billone]

Peter Pan is not the book I remember reading as a child.



J.M. Barrie’s classic play turned novella about a boy who always wants to remain a child and have fun is a body of work that has so many retellings that it’s nearly impossible to go back and read the original without one of these other works changing the reader’s experience of it. How can I read Barrie’s Pan without Spielberg’s Hook or Disney’s animated film or the countless musical theatre productions I’ve seen influencing how I read it?

Peter Pan is a character who belongs to our cultural imagination, which proves unfortunate for Barrie’s original work. This happens a lot with classic literature. There are so many different versions of the original that people either never see it or find it is not what they were expecting.

I was expecting a different book when I read Peter Pan. The adventures Peter, Wendy, John, Michael, and the Lost Boys had in Neverland weren’t especially exciting, and this was in part because Neverland, as Barrie’s fictional world, was unconvincing. It never seemed like a world that I could inhabit. If writers are going to create fictional worlds that are as central to the story as Neverland is, readers should be made to feel that it is a world they really could be part of.

What  I love about Harry Potter, for instance, is how substantial J.K. Rowling made her wizarding world. Hogwarts wasn’t just a fanciful place that lived only inside Rowling’s imagination; I waited for my letter to Hogwarts to come via owl and was disappointed to remember that I’m not a witch. But Peter Pan never made me want to visit Neverland or to even think that I could. So…I was bored. I never felt part of the adventure.

In adapting his 1904 play into a novel, Barrie made the story very narrator heavy. The narrator is charming (I imagine him to be Barrie himself) but strikes a distance between the reader and what is actually happening in the book. It makes me think that Peter Pan works best as a play or other form of theatrical production.

Despite it’s writing style, Peter Pan captures the innocence and irresponsibility of childhood in a way no other book can.


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