Like a lot of us out there in the world I grew up on fairy tales. Mostly the Disney kind. A most exciting week night event in the young lives of my sister and I was when dad would come home from work in his suit and tie, one hand holding his jacket, the other behind his back. We knew what this meant – a new Disney VHS for our collection. What will it be this time? Sleeping Beauty?? Dumbo? Aladdin? No matter what it was – new or old – we would be uncontrollably excited and would, obviously, watch it immediately eight times. My sister and I are very well versed in the Walt Disney collection. I think the first time my mom really questioned her mothering skills was when she couldn’t separate me from the TV after introducing me to Dumbo at 2 years old. What had she done!?
What she and my dad had done was introduce me to the world of good old fashioned story telling from a very young age. So it was no surprise that as I grew older I became more interested in the written stories these fantastical, uplifting, beautifully animated Disney movies came from. This opened up a whole new world for me and I fell deeply in love. I couldn’t believe how dark the original stories were.
J.M. Barrie’s The Adventures of Peter Pan has become one of my top five favorite reads of all time. The beauty of this story blew me away. The character of Peter Pan is heartbreaking. He is a tortured soul so desperate to hold onto innocence, so afraid of what growing up will do to his soul. J.M. Barrie’s Neverland is a frightening and lonely place where everything is pretend – real emotion doesn’t exist. Peter and the lost boys are introduced to real feelings of love and loss through Wendy. The lost boys realize that even with the pain of loss, there is so much pleasure in really feeling something. But Peter is not convinced. He is determined to stay as far away from pain as he can and in this way isolates himself even further, becoming a very empty soul.
I have two favorite moments in this story. The first is when we are introduced to Peter in Neverland:
“They do seem to be emerging out of our island, don’t they? The little people of the play, all except that one sly one, the chief figure who draws farther and farther into the wood as we advance upon him? He so dislikes being tracked, as if there were something odd about him. That when he dies he means to get up and blow away the particle that will be his ashes…” – J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan).
Not only an amazing visual, but also such insight into this sad main character. The second moment actually gave me chills the first time I read it. At the end of the story Wendy gives Peter three chances to leave Neverland and be adopted by her mother along with the lost boys. She tells him that for three nights she will keep her window open and on the third night her mother will close the window and lock him out forever. Peter visits the window each night but his pride won’t allow him to enter no matter how badly he wants to.
“Mrs. Darling closes and bars the window. At this moment there is no longer any second chance to go either in or out…” – J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)
There is nothing Peter feels that we can’t relate to and along with Peter we are reminded why it is necessary to grow up and experience love and loss. Which is why the end is so incredibly dark. We know he has made a huge mistake by letting his pride keep him in Neverland and how by staying he goes against everything he claims to be. There is no happy ending for Peter. Even more amazing is the comparison made between Peter and his evil nemesis Hook – a man who stayed in Neverland far too long:
“The curtain rises to show Peter a very Napoleon on his ship. It must not rise again lest we see him on the poop in Hook’s hat and cigars, and with a small iron claw…” – J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)
The illustrations I’ve included in this post are from none other than the amazing Arthur Rackham. A big, scary goal of mine is to someday illustrate these dark moments in my own style. I am not ready yet – They feel far too special for me to touch right now. But someday!