Peter Pan is a little boy who refuses to grow up. One day, he visits Wendy in the heart of London and convinces her to come, with her brothers, to Neverland an imaginary country. It is there that the lost children, the Tinker Bell fairy and the dreaded Captain Hook, Peter’s sworn enemy, live!
Alas! I still have many gaps in the great classics of literature. Peter Pan was one of them, so I immersed myself in this tale that rocked my childhood thanks to the adaptations of this book, I’m thinking of the Disney cartoon as well as the film Hook (directed by Steven Spielberg, staring Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Julia Roberts).
What strikes you when you discover this text is that Peter Pan is far from the image that Disney made of him. Behind his bravery and courage, he is misogynistic and very selfish. As for Tinker Bell, jealous of Wendy, she becomes evil and machiavellian. In short, we are far from a tale that is 100 % nice as we could imagine but it contains several interesting aspects.
Wendy and her brothers live the experience that every reader has when immersed in a tale: going to the other side of the mirror and living an extraordinary adventure. James Barrie offers us a rather interesting mise en abîme as we are led to cross the barrier between reality and fiction twice.
Peter’s desire not to grow up and to stay in the world of children also underlines the fear of death, to the point that Peter goes so far as to kill the children who grow up. There are also similarities between Peter and Captain Hook (an adult Peter?), who is also afraid of death symbolized by the crocodile and the ticking of the clock (= the passing of time).
“All children, except one, grow up.”
It is with this famous sentence that the novel begins and, indeed, Peter remains the only one who does not grow up. In order to continue to enjoy his childhood without being affected by aging and then the disappearance of his friends and companions, Peter forgets everything and very quickly. This is extremely cruel for the others (Wendy in the foreground) who see themselves erased from his memory. Without revealing the end of the story, I found the last pages extremely sad and depressing, one would think by certain aspects in the eternal return described by Nietzsche.
In short, it’s a very interesting book that raises some thoughts when you discover it with an adult’s look but don’t expect too much enchantment! To fully appreciate it, one should probably imagine going back to childhood for the time of reading and go into the lost world without thinking too much… but I’m probably already a little too old for that!
“Who is captain now?”
“Hook,” answered Peter, and his face became very stern as he said that hated word.
Then indeed Michael began to cry, and even John could speak in gulps only, for they knew Hook’s reputation.
“He was Blackbeard’s bo’sun,” John whispered huskily. “He is the worst of them all. He is the only man of whom Barbecue was afraid.”
“That’s him,” said Peter.
“What is he like? Is he big?”
“He is not so big as he was.”
“How do you mean?”
“I cut off a bit of him.”
“Yes, me,” said Peter sharply.
“I wasn’t meaning to be disrespectful.”
“Oh, all right.”
“But, I say, what bit?”
“His right hand.”
“Then he can’t fight now?”
“Oh, can’t he just!”
“He has an iron hook instead of a right hand, and he claws with it.”
“I say, John,” said Peter.
“Say, ‘Ay, ay, sir.’”
“Ay, ay, sir.”
“There is one thing,” Peter continued, “that every boy who serves under me has to promise, and so must you.”
“It is this, if we meet Hook in open fight, you must leave him to me.”
“I promise,” John said loyally.
Hook rose to the rock to breathe, and at the same moment Peter scaled it on the opposite side. The rock was slippery as a ball, and they had to crawl rather than climb. Neither knew that the other was coming. Each feeling for a grip met the other’s arm: in surprise they raised their heads; their faces were almost touching; so they met.
Some of the greatest heroes have confessed that just before they fell to [began combat] they had a sinking [feeling in the stomach]. Had it been so with Peter at that moment I would admit it. After all, he was the only man that the Sea-Cook had feared. But Peter had no sinking, he had one feeling only, gladness; and he gnashed his pretty teeth with joy. Quick as thought he snatched a knife from Hook’s belt and was about to drive it home, when he saw that he was higher up the rock than his foe. It would not have been fighting fair. He gave the pirate a hand to help him up.
It was then that Hook bit him.
Not the pain of this but its unfairness was what dazed Peter. It made him quite helpless. He could only stare, horrified. Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly. All he thinks he has a right to when he comes to you to be yours is fairness. After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but will never afterwards be quite the same boy. No one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter. He often met it, but he always forgot it. I suppose that was the real difference between him and all the rest.
So when he met it now it was like the first time; and he could just stare, helpless. Twice the iron hand clawed him..
1911 – 143 pages – ISBN : 978-0147508652
Illustration : AngeliciousO3O