When the Scottish born author J.M. Barrie (1860 – 1937) wrote his delightful children’s tale of adventure, love, kindness, belief, hope and pixie dust Peter Pan his hero came from ‘never never never land where he lived together with a group of Lost Boys in fear of Pirates and wolves’.
“Wendy,” Peter Pan continued in a voice that no woman has ever yet been able to resist, “Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.”
The story and its setting is a perfect metaphor in many ways for aspects of the patriarchal society of Barrie’s time, as well as for our own, despite us being 100+ years on. Peter Pan has the eternal optimism of a child.
This means that no matter what hurdles or obstacles he needs to overcome so that he can win the admiration of the lost boys and that puzzling girl Wendy who keeps hugging and kissing him, what is important is that he believes he can.
Peter Pan has to bravely step up to save Wendy, at the end of Barrie’s terrific tale, from being thrown overboard from the pirate’s ship. He has to fight off the evil pirate Captain Hook so that he can save her.
As they engage in a sword duel the terrified Hook, faced with such a formidable opponent cries out “Tis some fiend fighting me! Who are you, Pan?” With all the innocence he can muster Peter Pan shouts back, “I’m youth!” “I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.
I’m youth! I’m joy!”
His actions otherwise however seem calculated as he wrenches Hook’s sword from him and pushes him into the sea, right into the jaws of that always waiting crocodile.
The lost boys ‘burst into ringing cheers as they, and Wendy crowd round their hero, who stands like a ‘conquering Napoleon’ (Barrie’s comparison not mine), while the pirate flag is lowered.
This final action reveals that while Peter is still only a child he is also entirely capable of showing a distinct lack of compassion and performing a dark deed after all.
Peter Pan does not want to understand that as an adult he will simply face the same choices, albeit in different guises?
For the rest who do grow up the challenges arise daily, from having relationships of any kind from family to friendship from business and partnership, personal and otherwise.
At the end of the story Peter, having delivered Wendy safely home to her parents Mr and Mrs Darling and Nana the dog, realizes that no matter how much he loves her he cannot consent to ‘grow up’ because that might challenge his belief system.
To remain intact it is based on a great dash of bravado, the eternal optimism of youth and, the admiration of those around him.
Belief is surely the most powerful of all the emotions we have and, in so many ways, impossible to analyze.
Some have suggested it is a function of will rather than a state of intellect, while others point out that that it is neither active nor aggressive, but basically passive.
In the evolution of the world belief has driven people to leave their homeland for somewhere new, where they believe they can change the course of their lives.
It has motivated the emergence of new ideas and generated philosophical, intellectual and scientific debate, as well as helped imagine grandiose visions of the future.
Belief has changed the course of history many times over, it is such a powerful concept.
By the end of J.M. Barrie’s story determinedly Peter Pan, despite his belief system being intact, clearly does not want to face any sort of reality or reason and so the adults, and Wendy, take on the responsibility of jointly making a decision on his behalf.
They reach a compromise that ‘once a year Mrs Darling will allow Wendy to go and stay with him for a whole week (in never never land) to do his spring cleaning’.
Today’s modern woman would have a field day with this attitude, which was of Barrie’s time, and still part of my own era growing up in 50’s Australia.
Despite what you may be thinking, that is not really so long ago.
What this does serve to illustrate is how quickly we can change our minds, attitudes and belief systems if we really want to and believe that they are wrong.
Peter Pan as a child was always able to act on his beliefs knowing that everything would always come right in the end. That was how simple it was for him.
However, as an adult by always remaining on the fringe not making decisions he restricted himself to only having shallow options for the rest of his life.
Suspending reality became the norm for Peter Pan, who has the fairies build a little house high up in the treetops for Wendy, a place where ‘the singing of birds and the ringing of hundreds of little fairy bells’ happen daily. The sweetest sound of all is the fluting of Peter’s pipe as he sits outside the little house calling for Spring to make haste, because with Spring one thing for sure that he knows, and believes, is that Wendy will come.
“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”*
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2012 – 2016
The Illustrations are taken from a now very rare Peter Pan Picture Book: Edition de Luxe 1907, (250 copies) with illustrations by Alice Bolingbroke Woodward (1862-1951) an English illustrator who created 28 coloured plates for the 250 copies of this book printed on handmade paper, with the plates mounted and reproduced courtesy Collector.