Revisiting Peter Pan

I thought about Peter Pan after a discussion with middle-grade girls. Through the Young Writers Program, I have been volunteering at a local school, and one day, we were talking about names. They have beautiful names. When it was my turn to talk about the origin of my name, I told them that I had been named after the character in Peter Pan. Then I knew I wanted to read the book again.

I was immediately enchanted by the way this story was told. It's an omniscient voice, full of authority, opinions, humor, and fancy words. The opening paragraph demonstrates how Barrie hooks you in immediately:

All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, “Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!” This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.

The bedroom scenes in this book, at the beginning and the end, are brilliant—the children's introduction to Peter, how he loses his shadow and how Wendy helps him regain it, and the children's escape from their home. The ending, when the children return and Peter's subsequent visits, both to Wendy and to her daughter, is equally poignant.

But other parts are a mess. Barrie wrote Peter Pan in 1904, and some of the story ideas—the offensive notion of “redskins” and the limited, restrictive roles that girls and women could do seriously detract from the charm of the story. There's instances in the end where Mr. Darling, full of remorse for his mistreatment of their dog and governess, Nanny, spends his time in the doghouse. He not only sleeps there; he carries it around with him on his commute to work and at the office. It was another strange moment where I detached from the story.

However, I wouldn't have missed reading it again. It really made me think about narrator voices, and how fun it might be someday to tell a story with that type of tone. And when the book worked, it was so powerful. After I finished reading Peter Pan, I read a tad about J. M. Barrie and learned that his brother had died at fourteen. Barrie's mother had been inconsolable. In his childhood, Barrie tried to comfort her by imitating the way his brother had spoke and wearing his clothes. It is that loss, I think, that gives the story such heft. Peter is never coming back. We can't hold him here. That boy will not grow up.

So, after I read that book again, what did I think about my name? I have wrestled with it for so long, wishing for something more daring or straightforward, or a little bit of both. “I'm nothing like her at all,” I thought, as I closed the book, "She's so maternal, so doting." Then I picked up a string, twirled it around, and sang to my kittens. One launched on my shoulder, and we marched around the house while the other waited on the bed for her cuddles. No, I'm not like Wendy at all.