Thursday, November 06, 2014

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

The kids and I managed to wrap up our reading of Peter Pan last week. Not that "wrapping it up" was all that hard to do. Everyone enjoyed the read, even Bookworm3 (age 3) who normally bores of our chapter books. It was nice to find one that she actually liked. I do suspect though that the reason she engaged with this story is because the characters were familiar to her, thanks to Disney. She enjoyed hearing about (and pretending to be) Wendy on Neverland Island. (The brothers play various roles from the book but no one else can pull off Wendy quite like Bookworm3. It must be nice to have exclusive pick sometimes.)

Since I am quite certain that everyone knows the storyline for Peter Pan, I'll avoid spending time explaining. I had mentioned that I read Peter Pan by myself a few years back. I almost hesitate to link to this but here is my old review (from 8 years ago!) which pretty much only points out that I read the book and didn't like certain aspects of it. (I hate my old reviews.) I have no idea what my complete thoughts were or even if I had any. (I really hate my old reviews.) Interesting though in that the one thing I noted was that 'one day' I would figure out how to filter the real story of Peter Pan when introducing it to my kids. Well, now the rubber has hit the road. And what did I do? I left it unfiltered. (I wipe my brow when saying that!) I have definitely changed as a reader and a more-experience-than-before parent. Ha!

Ok, so the kids and I sat down to read Peter Pan and overall we enjoyed it as I said. There are still aspects of the book which I did not like but this time I'll explain more precisely what they were. I read the book aloud and left it all as-is with one exception. Tinker Bell has a habit of saying, "You silly ass" quite a bit and I think that's very rude and something that I don't want my kids picking up on and trying out for themselves. So when I read her voice, I just left it at her saying, "You silly!" They didn't notice the difference but they also didn't catch the rudeness which is Tinker Bell and I think that's actually something of a loss for them. (But I'm also happy to let them discover the missing word later on when they are more mature.) Of course, the book is different from the Disney version and Bookworm1 pointed this out when we got around to re-watching that film. (I'm glad he noticed. He's been paying more attention to differences between books and movies like a good little bookworm ought to do.)

Now, let's jump to the "meat" of this post, shall we?

What did I not like about Peter Pan?

  • I do not like the way that Mr. Darling is portrayed. He's a bumbling idiot who thinks highly of himself even though everyone else sees him as a rather inconvenient fussy pants. He does not receive an ounce of respect. While it is true that some fathers certainly strain our abilities to respect them, the role that they possess deserves a little respect, like it or not. I believe that even a bad father ought to be forgiven his sins just as we hope and believe ours will be forgiven. Even if a person has a father who is rotten to the core, we are still called to love them as we are to love our enemies. Sometimes our enemies are our fathers (or father figures) which is most definitely regrettable and sad. However, this does not excuse the fact that we are required to do right and think right even if they refuse to do the same. I don't much like how Mr. Darling runs his household (or pouts like a baby in the dog house, drawing ridiculous attention to himself) but he is still the children's father and they need to support and love him in whatever way it might be possible for them to do so. (Finding ways to respect fathers when they prove undeserving poses many difficult questions and by stating all that I have, please note that I am in no way belittling the herculean effort it requires to recover from a bad father and then attempt love on top of that.) As Mr. Darling though is not an evil man, he also ought to be obeyed without so much argument (as was the case in the beginning of the book). I don't know what Barrie thought of fathers but by testimony of this book, my guess is that he didn't think many kind things. 
  • Politically correct crowds are not going to enjoy the way that the Indians are spoken of in this book. Using the label "red skins' isn't at all acceptable these days and so that will give modern readers pause. It is rather cringe worthy but as I mentioned in my review of Brer Rabbit, times change our beliefs, convictions and perceptions (as it ought to do) but we can't just ignore the past or ban books because we don't like the historical aspect of them. Certainly Barrie potrayed Indians in a rather poor light but at the time there was much less known about these people. They were mysterious and feared and it's understandable that that is the picture of them that Barrie gives to us.
  • I do not care for Tinker Bell's language or attitude of contempt. (Disney has saved her hide.)

Things I know will be a problem for other people in the story, but that didn't bother me:

  • There is a lot of talk about killing people in this story. The pirates are after the lost boys who are after the Indians who are after the pirates and so on and so forth. Their battles are not clean, neat, pretty or silly. They outright kill each other. Hook is not so much a bumbling codfish in the book as he is a (literal) cut throat pirate. I've never thought of pirates as being silly, fun guys and have never portrayed them as such to my boys. They aren't people that you are designed to admire so I didn't mind Barrie's descriptions of their behavior and left it as-is and open for questions. (They didn't ask me any questions.)

Things I did not remember about the literary version of Peter which I found fascinating:

  • I had forgotten how much of a baby Peter acts. In the Disney version especially, he has the voice of pre-teen or early teen and he acts with the maturity level of a 12 year old (or thereabouts). His independence is somewhat believable in the cartoon version. He's taller on film than I think Barrie envisioned and, again, the deeper voice makes a huge difference. In contrast, Barrie consistently refers to Peter as a baby in every act and thought. Peter-of-the-Book only remembers things for a few seconds or minutes and then he's off to the next adventure, forgetting the last. His imagination is healthy and boundless and so real to him that he can even believe he is eating real food when he isn't. Really the only thing very adult about Peter-of-the-Book is the way he fights against Hook and the pirates. In all other ways he is predictably selfish and self-centered, just like a very young child. I recall not liking that aspect of Peter in my first reading, but this time I was just left with a certain amount of appreciation for Barrie's understanding of the sin nature of children. (Heh.)

Naturally after we finished the book, we watched both movie versions. We started with Disney which led to several days of pretending to be Wendy and Peter Pan fighting off crocodiles and Captain Hook. (Yes. It is delightful to me when my kids start acting out the books and stories that they hear and see.) Following the Disney version we watched the Cathy Rigby version which I have mentioned before. All of the kids sat riveted for the Rigby version and I (always and forever) recommended it to you. The only objection is that Tinker Bell's language isn't edited and Tiger Lily's costume a bit revealing. Peter interprets the "you silly ass!" line to Wendy in the Rigby version. (And both of my boys burst out laughing. Sigh.)

Really, don't just leave yourself with Disney (although I do find the cartoon version to be quite enjoyable in Disney's classic charming way) but check out Rigby also!

I am glad to have read this one again for myself and also to have shared it (unedited) with my kids. They enjoyed it and I get to write a brand new review which effectively writes the other one away, right? RIGHT!?


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Read Peter years ago to my girls and found it a tough read aloud due to all the dialogue, etc. we saw it on stage at the AL Shakespeare Festival and loved it!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Excuse the errors above--on iPad!

Barbara H. said...

I almost got this on the Kindle a while back but then decided not to. Maybe I will some time. Interesting how modern versions make Peter admirable for not growing up, but in the book he was actually babyish. Have you seen the live action film version with Jason Isaacs as both Hook and Mr. Darling? I thought that was an interesting twist. Don't take this as a recommendation, because I can't remember a lot about it except I didn't like that they made the relationship between Peter and Wendy too "romantic," but I did think the cinematography was really nice.

Mark Baker said...

I love Peter Pan, but I have never read the book. I found your review very interesting as a result. Not sure I want to read it since it would probably ruin my image of him. (Then again, he was the villain last season on Once Upon a Time, and that didn't ruin the character for me.)

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review! I tried this book years ago, when my daughter was younger and we didn't finish it out. I bet I'd have some interested children now.

Stephanie said...

This is one that I remember reading to N1 several years ago and I loved it. (The English accents are so fun to try and read). : ) I forgot, until you mentioned it, how whiny Peter is! I'm going to look forward to reading this with them again in a few years when the boy is ready for it. : )

Bluerose said...

I didn't get to this one last month like I'd hoped(and now I'm in the mood for middle grade adventures and Christmas stories, so I'll probably push it off until next year), but you've given me hope that I can appreciate it more the next time around. I think I recall Peter's and Tinkerbell's meanness being my biggest reasons for not liking it, but I like what you said about Barrie's understanding concerning Peter's childishness.

(And, HA! at my old comment. :P I remember being baffled at other people's review at that point, and a little sad about it. I'm racking my brain at what LLAN means!)

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