Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Peter Pan

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, July 2, 2001

“Shall I after him, captain,” asked pathetic Smee, “and tickle him with Johnny Corkscrew?” Smee had pleasant names for everything, and his cutlass was Johnny Corkscrew, because he wriggled it in the wound. One could mention many lovable traits in Smee. For instance, after killing, it was his spectacles he wiped instead of his weapon.

Of all of the famous children’s stories coming from English authors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, “Peter Pan” is the most clearly aimed at adults.

RecommendationPurchase Now!
AuthorJ. M. Barrie
Year1911
Length176 pages
Book Rating8

Peter and Wendy” is based on J.M. Barrie’s play, “Peter Pan”. Nowadays mostly staged as a children’s play, it was not meant that way. In “Peter and Wendy,” J. M. Barrie speaks directly to the reader on occasion, and the reader is clearly other adults like him. Speaking of Neverland for the first time, he says:

On these magic shores children at play are for ever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.

It can only be presented as a children’s story if the good parts are taken out. In its original form this is a dark look at childhood. It was originally a play--also for adults--and this comes through in the book. Neverland is a dark place with drunken elves, and pirates to kill and be killed by. This is a beautiful story about growing up, and not growing up, and the desolation of adulthood. That much it shares in common with “Winnie-the-Pooh”: the acknowledgment that after you start growing up, you stop having fun.

All the boys were grown up and done for by this time; so it is scarcely worth while saying anything more about them. You may see the twins and Nibs and Curly any day going to an office, each carrying a little bag and an umbrella. Michael is an engine-driver. Slightly married a lady of title, and so he became a lord. You see that judge in a wig coming out at the iron door? That used to be Tootles. The bearded man who doesn’t know any story to tell his children was once John.

One of the most fascinating scenes that you’ll never see in the Disney version is Wendy, John, and Michael’s father living in a kennel, and the kids disappointed because “he is not so big as the pirate I killed”. For that matter, you don’t see much of the killing, either. Pirates and Indians die. Lost Boys sometimes do, although none of them during the book. And Peter forgets it all unless it’s fun right now. “I forget after I kill them,” he says. This is one aspect where the relatively faithful Spielberg movie failed: Barrie’s lost boys did not use egg throwers or other cute tricks to incapacitate their opponents. They used swords, and their swords killed pirates.

“Winnie-the-Pooh” has the more dreamy quality; “Alice in Wonderland” is witty and sharp. But “Peter and Wendy” is my favorite. All of them are about the desirability of youth, but Peter Pan holds the most perspicacious analysis of the relationship between children and adults. Children are heartless bastards, callous to their friends and family alike. They believe that their mother will always be there for them. But Peter knows better. He knows that mothers have plans that are not in the children’s best interests, and he also knows that children who go off on their own may well return to find that their mother has locked them out.

But there are also the adults who give up their own futures for their children, as the Never Bird that passes her nest to save Peter from the sea, though she knows it will mean the death of her own eggs. And the “not wholly unheroic” Captain Hook, the aristocratic pirate and archenemy of Peter Pan, who worries continually over good form, and the lack of any little children to love him.

And Peter himself, who comes when he pleases, steals the hearts of mothers, daughters, and fairy, and spends his life having great adventures in Wonderland, that magical place where we adults can only hear the sound of the surf but can still remember visiting in our youth. This is a romantically sarcastic story that is funny and touching, and insightful to boot. I highly recommend it.

Peter Pan

J. M. Barrie

Recommendation: Purchase Now!

If you enjoyed Peter Pan…

If you enjoy J. M. Barrie, you might also be interested in Hook.

If you enjoy whimsical, you might also be interested in City of Lost Children, Hook, King of Hearts, L.A. Story, The Wizard of Oz, Yellow Submarine, Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, Moonshadow, Oddville! and Land of Nod, The Complete Lewis Carroll, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and The World of Pooh.