By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

By the Book #8 – Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan is one of the immortals of children's literature. This book has everything: adventures, pirates, fantasy islands, and children who may or may not grow up. To me, it's the best book ever written. Why? Read on.

Tick-tock… It’s time! I have been dying to write a post about my favourite book ever: Peter and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie. This book is the one, the epitome of children’s literature, the one book I never want to forget. This is the one I would choose if I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I would tattoo its quotes all over my body, I would have a Peter Pan themed wedding if I ever had one. This is the book that forever changed the way I saw the world. The moment I started reading about Peter Pan, I knew he would know the directions to my heart, fly straight into it, and make a little house there. Do you want to know why this book means so much to me? Read on.

Peter and Wendy is an exploration of what it means to be a child, and why, eventually, we all need to grow up. I remember reading this story for the first time, and feeling like Barrie had written down the exact words I would have used (had I been as eloquent as he) to describe the differences between children and adults. While reading, I reflected on my own childhood, and remembered that, as a young girl, I often had serious conversations with myself. I used to wonder whether I was a typical child, and whether I would notice growing up. I never wanted to forget what it was like to be young, and I repeatedly swore to myself that I would never truly grow up, and that there would always be some part of me that could remember the exact way I felt at that very moment. (Needless to say, I haven’t got the foggiest anymore.)

This is why Peter Pan is such a brilliant story: Barrie, unlike myself, did seem to be fully able to recall his own childhood, and to put into words the fantasies that he had as a young boy. We all know the result: Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up, his nemesis Captain Hook (and, in turn, his arch enemy, the ticking crocodile, who swallowed a clock and symbolises the passing of time and Hook’s inevitable demise), his best friend Tinkerbell, and Wendy, and her brothers George and Michael, who have many adventures in Neverland, a made-up island where dreams and nightmares come true. 

Each adventure of Peter and Wendy symbolises an aspect of a child’s route to maturity, and it becomes clear that Peter never will go down that road. While Peter could not be happier about this, Barrie does wonder whether this might actually be a curse. This becomes clear in one of my favourite scenes, in which Peter and Captain Hook are duelling, and Peter is shocked when Hook suddenly bites him. Look at how Barrie describes his outrage: 

“Not the pain of this but its unfairness was what dazed Peter. It made him quite helpless. He could only stare, horrified. Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly. All he thinks he has a right to when he comes to you to be yours is fairness. After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but he will never afterwards be quite the same boy. No one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter. He often met it, but he always forgot it. I suppose that that was the real difference between him and all the rest.”

Peter and Wendy, J.M. Barrie

Whenever I am thinking of the difference between childhood and adulthood, this is the quotation that pops up. It is true that forgetting, and therefore no true disappointment, causes perpetual happiness, but on the other hand, it also means that you will never learn from your mistakes. This scene always makes me think of the times when I was treated unfairly, or when something happened that I had no control over. Oh, how frustrated I was, how the tears would roll down my cheeks, and how I wished these things had never happened to me! Now I realise that it is these things that have shaped me into the individual I am now, and that I would not have been the same person had I not experienced them.

Peter never wanted to grow up, and I don’t think any child really does. I most certainly didn’t when I was a child. But truth be told, I am so happy that I have, and that I remember the bumpy road I’ve taken to get here. Only as a grown-up can you look back on the life you’ve lived so far – and surely, that’s worth more than a thousand adventures you wouldn’t even remember, isn’t it?

So, what do you think: do you agree with Peter, or are there some good aspects about growing up? Are there any other books that discuss these themes? Do let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book musings!

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