Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Spirit of Youth

Earlier this year I watched Disney's "Peter Pan" and then another childhood classic for me "Hook", both for the first time since I was a child.
There were so many things in this story I did not remember, a lot of symbolism I missed because of being young. So I decided to read the original text "Peter Pan and Wendy" written of course by J.M. Barrie.
What I was most shocked about with the original story, as apposed to most movie adaptations, was how much more sad the entire feel was. There was not a happy ending. Everyone just grew up and forgot, except Wendy who grew up and still remembered. Peter well... he never grew up but he forgot everything anyway. Living in "Never Never Land" causes you to forget, according to J.M. Barrie. The only reason Wendy remembered, according to the author was because she was a girl, and girls were "much too clever" to forget. He also stated that is the reason there are no "Lost Girls" only Lost Boys.
At the beginning of the Disney adaptation, the narrator explains that Mrs. Darling(the Wendy, John, and Michael's mother) had heard of Peter Pan and thought he was "The Spirit of Youth". In the book, it goes further and says that Mrs. Darling believes Peter to be a sort of guardian angel who accompanies sick or poor children who die at an early age into heaven.
I just couldn't help but think deeper about this story, there is so much to it. I've compiled a list of things that I find interesting about this fairy tale, and what they mean to me on a psychological level.

The first thing I noticed as an adult was that nearly every female in this story seems to be in love with Peter Pan. Wendy of course, tries to get him to kiss her very early on but since he has the innocent naiveness of a child he has no idea what she is asking for. Tinker Bell is extremely devoted and also extremely jealous. She pulls Wendy's hair when she first meets her, and shortly after tries to convince the Lost Boys to kill her. The Mermaids love Peter and dote over him until they see Wendy and try to drown her. They also criticize the fact the she is in a nightgown even though most of them are wearing only star fish and seashells for tops.
Tiger Lily kisses Peter after he rescues her from Captain Hook, which throws Wendy into a rage. When she mentions Tiger Lily to Peter one scene later he acts as if he doesn't even remember who Tiger Lily is.
So all this makes me question "why?". Why would seemingly smart female characters decide to devote themselves to someone who is incapable of ever growing up? Personally I think it might be that internal nurturing instinct that I've heard talked about many times. But they might just be drawn to his charisma as well. Or maybe J.M. Barrie had a poor view of woman and decided to make them all very jealous in nature. It's all something to think about at least.

The next and probably most interesting for me thing that I noticed was the main villain, Captain Hook. He lives in Never Land with his pirate crew, Peter Pan his sworn enemy. Besides a few Indians, him and his crew seem to be the only adults on the entire island. A famous quote of J.M. Barrie's is something to the nature of "Nothing of interest ever happens to you after the age of twelve". So the main enemy of the story is an adult living in the land surrounded by children of perpetual youth. His sworn enemy is "The Spirit of Youth" and his greatest fear is the sound of a ticking clock. It goes without saying that the Mr. Barrie did not view growing older in a good light.

Of course the most interesting character in the story is our hero himself, Peter Pan. He is said to be based on a few different people. J.M. Barrie's older brother died in an ice skating accident at the age of 14. Barrie explained that his mother comforted herself by thinking of her dead son as the little boy who never had to grow up, he never had to leave the nest, he would always remain young. Later on his life, Barrie famously befriended a family with many young boys, from who he drew inspiration from his writing. Sadly and ironically enough the boy he was said to have most based Peter on named Michael, drowned at the age of 21. The oldest son in the family George, was killed in WW1, and the son actually named Peter, later committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. All these untimely deaths occurred well after the success of Peter Pan (with the exception of course of Barrie's older brother), and it's tragic and also haunting that all the known inspirations for this character died young, remaining forever young, never knowing what it was like to grow old. They all became Lost Boys in the end. "To die would be an awfully big adventure"-'Peter Pan and Wendy'
"You know that place in between sleeping an awake, that place where you can still remember dreaming? That's where I will always think of you"-Peter Pan and Wendy"
"All this has happened before, and it will all happen again; All children grow up. Except one."

No comments:

Post a Comment