Independent Growth Through Gendered Alternate Universes: Peter and Wendy and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

A common theme in children’s literature is the presence of a strange, mysterious, alternate universe only accessible and comprehensible to children. This theme is often used to encourage young readers, especially those of twenty-first century society, to use their imagination and explore the world around them rather than engage in electronic devices. Two popular pieces of children’s literature, C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy portray the emotional, behavioral, and social growth in which children experience when they independently enter alternate universes. Child characters in both texts confront new societies that are heavily associated with gender roles and moral codes, which initially intimidate and startle them. However, once accustomed to such principles, the children portray significant growth as they successfully display behaviors and actions of older, more emotionally developed children without the presence or guidance of their parents.

Child characters quickly familiarize themselves with gendered landscapes and settings of alternate universes. The interior sectors of such universes often include domestic enclosed settings, which portray a sense of feminine warmth, safety, and containment, while the exterior sectors may include expansive, uncovered, and often hazardous settings, which portray a sense of danger, vulnerability, but also primitive, masculine intrigue: “There have always been separate spheres of gender power… the opposition between the two spaces (exterior – masculine, interior – feminine)” (Georgakis 10). There are distinct differences between interior and exterior spaces, like females and males; therefore the binaries must associate with each other. The stark contrast between the interior and exterior sectors of children’s literature also have deeper psychological ties, as Anne Lundin, author of Constructing the Canon of Children’s Literature explains, “landscapes are always dual… the external is the one we see— the topology of the land as well as its inhabitants, the weather, seasons… the second landscape is interior—a projection of a part of the exterior landscape… “The heart’s field.”” Lundin’s naming of the interior sector as the “heart’s field” ties into the sensitive, nurturing, and motherly expectations of female characters within children’s literature as the name itself translates to an emotionally protective hub for all members of the alternate universe.

In J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, central female character Wendy Darling finds comfort within her own domestic setting in London, which causes her to associate herself with domestic settings in the alternate universe of Neverland. Along with the lost boys, Peter, and her two brothers, Michael and John, Wendy creates a warm and comforting underground atmosphere where they all shelter themselves at night. Wendy portrays her close relations to domesticity and nurture as she expresses to her youngest brother, Michael, “I must have somebody in a cradle… and you are the littlest. A cradle is such a nice homely thing to have about a house,” and how the interior of the underground home “had become a very familiar scene” to her (Barrie 160). In children’s literature it is quite common for female characters to provide a nurturing domestic space and to maintain some form of order in a universe where disorder is strongly present. Wendy exemplifies this trait as she makes sense of the disorderly and chaotic nature of Neverland by finding and creating comfort within the lost boys’ underground home.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Lucy, initially the only child granted access to the alternate universe of Narnia, physically enters through an old wardrobe: “She [Lucy] looked back over her shoulder and there, between the dark-tree trunks, she could still see the open doorway of the wardrobe and even catch a glimpse of the empty room which she had set out” (8). The wardrobe is an enclosed, interior “hub of the house” where “there exists a center of order that protects the entire house against uncurbed disorder” (Bachelard 79). Entities of nature also appeal to female characters as Lucy is immersed with nature the instant she enters Narnia. She establishes a heartfelt relationship with Mr. Tumnus, a hybrid between a faun and a man: “Lucy found herself walking through the wood arm in arm with this strange creature as if they had known one another all their lives” (Lewis 14). Lucy is later befriended and aided by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, whom are both civilized and materialized yet still animals and parts of nature. At the time of entering Narnia, Lucy finds comfort in her surroundings as she encounters objects and creatures of nature. Female characters in Peter and Wendy and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe therefore find solace in spaces of domestic enclosure and natural purity due to the binding of innocence and safety with femininity. As stated above, the exterior sectors of alternate universes in children’s literature are often associated with masculinity.

In J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, Peter, John, and Michael share similar affinity with adventure and the outdoors. When Peter appears at the Darling household and persuades the children to go to Neverland with him, John and Michael express interest despite Wendy’s hesitation: “‘I say,” cried John, ‘why shouldn’t we all go out!’ Of course it was to this that Peter was luring them. Michael was ready: he wanted to see how long it took him to do a billion miles. But Wendy hesitated” (100). The Darling boys’ excitement towards escape from domestic confinement and venturing to the mysterious, unpredictable landscape of Neverland demonstrates the strong affiliation between males and the exterior world.

In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Aslan portrays pride, strength, and confidence through his exterior presence, most notably his mane. When the White Witch temporarily triumphs Aslan, she commands her servants to shave off his mane: “Watching from their hiding-place, [Susan and Lucy] could see the face of Aslan looking all small and different without his mane. The enemies also saw the difference” (Lewis 153). By stripping Aslan’s mane, Aslan is temporarily stripped of his pride and dominance, which further symbolizes an act of emasculation. Therefore, the concept of the exterior is strongly associated with the male gender in children’s literature. Landscapes and settings act as a catalyst for child characters when they are placed into unfamiliar situations in alternate universes. Female characters are often dominant over males when placed in an interior setting.

In Peter and Wendy, Wendy obtains the role of the mother in the lost boys’ house underground. The lost boys cry out to Wendy, “O Wendy lady, be our mother” (Barrie 131), and later provide complete, undivided attention to Wendy as she tells them a bedtime story: “‘Listen then,’ said Wendy, settling down to her story, with Michael at her feet and seven boys in the bed. ‘There once was a gentleman…” (Barrie 164). The male characters in this story, most notably the lost boys and the Darling boys, naturally treat Wendy as their own mother, which ultimately grants Wendy a significant amount of authority over them. Wendy’s motherly status within the lost boys’ household demonstrates her ability to dominate over male characters within a feminized setting.

On the other hand, male characters receive moral righteousness and authority when they triumph over evil figures and forces in exterior spaces. In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Aslan defeats the White Witch in a vast exterior battleground setting. Narnia’s cold winter landscape created by the White Witch’s curse is diminished, allowing the warmth of spring to finally appear: “they saw the winter vanishing and the whole wood passing in a few hours or so from January to May. They hadn’t even known for certain (as the Witch did) that this was what would happen when Aslan came to Narnia” (Lewis 123-124). Aslan’s domination over the White Witch portrays a message that morally righteous male characters triumph over evil female characters when placed in an exterior masculine setting. Characters in secondary worlds therefore display particular behaviors due to the settings in which they are placed. Child characters experience social and emotional growth in alternate universes when they innately apply particular behaviors and actions based on their physical setting. In other words, they experience a slight coming of age, which often includes sexual advancement as well.

In Peter and Wendy, Wendy portrays a sense of female sexuality during a conversation with Peter in the underground house as she asks him, “What are your exact feelings for me?” This question indicates a sense of sexual maturity as she develops genuine feelings for Peter, who is clearly less developed and rather intimidated by her question as he responds “looking a little scared,” “It is only make-believe, isn’t it, that I am [the lost boys’] father?” (Barrie 161). Peter’s hesitation and anxiety suggests that he has not yet accomplished the sexual maturity that Wendy has. Therefore Wendy is able to demonstrate a form of female sexuality within a domestic setting in which she is the dominant mother figure. Social and emotional maturity is also gained when child characters triumph over evil beings in exterior settings.

Peter Pevensie exhibits such development in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when he kills the White Witch’s wolf during his first battle in Narnia. Aslan congratulates Peter on his victory as he states, “Rise up, Sir Peter Wolf’s-Bane. And, whatever happens, never forget to wipe your sword” (Lewis 133). Peter is praised with honor and righteousness by killing the evil Wolf in a setting occupied by other evil creatures, which therefore demonstrates psychological growth through recognition of moral codes in the alternate universe. Children experience emotional, behavioral, and social growth in alternate universes through familiarization of gendered settings and moral codes.

In the children’s literary texts, Peter and Wendy and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, child characters enter alternate universes that are considerably different from their primary worlds in terms of appearance, logic, and rules. When children are placed in such universes, they quickly attach themselves to an aspect that they can relate to, which in both texts are interior and exterior settings and landscapes. By relating to the settings they encounter, children establish gender roles and adhere to moral codes. Both texts encourage child readers to independently explore the unfamiliar, adapt to proper conducts and achieve comfort and stability in their own society: “adults do not make the world better or safer for children; children themselves shoulder the responsibility for learning how the world works” (Murray 191). Through Peter and Wendy and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, child characters demonstrate such abilities through association and recognition of gendered settings and moral codes. This process is not easy or enjoyable at times, which only strengthens and deepens the emotional, behavioral and social abilities of the children, ultimately benefiting them for the adventures of adolescence and adulthood that lie ahead.

Ambiguity and Morals in Barrie’s and Disney’s Peter Pan

Peter Pan, the 1911 novel by J.M. Barrie, has been a popular read for over a century. In the one-hundred and six years of its existence it has inspired numerous adaptations for film, stage productions and other works. Among the film adaptations reside titles such as Hook (2013) and Peter Pan (2003), but undoubtedly the most well-known adaptation is Disney’s Peter Pan (1953). According to Deborah Cartmell “the ambition of a Disney adaptation is to usurp its source . . . so that the film adaptation triumphs over its literary original, and, for most viewers, it is the film rather than the text that is the original” (169); Peter Pan has a reputation of being a true Disney classic. Disney productions take immense liberties with the texts they adapt, and do not shy away from omitting, replacing, or greatly changing characters, replacing sad or realistic endings with happy ones or adapting the plot to fit the Disney corporation’s views and goals. Whilst Barrie’s novel is often described as a children’s book, it contains some dark subject matter that might not be suitable for (all) children; for example, it is mentioned that Peter “thins out” his lost boys when they “seem to be growing up” (59). Peter’s character is not wholly the good, innocent hero we would expect from a children’s story. Janet Wasko identifies a clear-cut distinction between hero and villain as one of the key elements in Disney’s films, linked to the guarantee of good always triumphing over evil (ch. 6); in this case, Peter defeating Captain Hook. Barrie’s characters, when compared to those in Disney’s adaptation, are more ambiguous in nature and behaviour.

Transposition of medium causes inevitable changes to the original work: according to Linda Hutcheon, “a novel, in order to be dramatized, has to be distilled, reduced in size, and thus, inevitably, complexity” (36). In the medium of film there is simply less time to elaborate on character details. Furthermore, unless certain forms of narration are used, it is harder to convey character’s thoughts, which novels can accomplish through narrating the stream of consciousness, or their covert backgrounds and motivations, usually revealed by an (omniscient) narrator. In Barrie’s novel, this narrator, for example, tells us that Hook “was not wholly evil; he loved flowers . . . and sweet music . . . ; and let it be frankly admitted, the idyllic nature of the scene stirred him profoundly” (149). Though loving flowers and music might not seem like significant factors of measuring one’s degree of evilness with, and this sentence can therefore be interpreted in an ironic fashion, the reader’s attention is nonetheless called to diversity in character; the bad guy is more like us than we might want to believe. No such thing happens in the animated film: there is no omniscient narrator to enlighten the public. However, as mentioned, there certainly are cinematographic devices that can achieve this same effect, but Disney does not attempt to convey this side of Hook in a visual manner either: the only moments where Hook is not portrayed as menacing, he is either afraid of the crocodile, or acting as a comic relief by, for example, losing half his outfit whilst fighting with said crocodile (00:44:22). Simplifying Hook’s character is therefore a deliberate choice and cannot be blamed entirely on transposition of medium; he needs to be unquestionably evil, and positioning him into comedic situations where he is the victim reaffirms that villains should not be taken seriously.

The role and importance of animated films, with children as their target audience, is multi-faceted; however, increasing pressure is put on their function of educating youth about values and morals (Giroux 66). The idea that good behaviour will always be rewarded and evil will perish, at least in the end, is a constant theme in Disney’s many movies. In the battle of good and evil, both sides must be clearly distinguished, leaving little room for ambiguity or complexity; “good always triumphs; dealing with defeat, failure or injustice is typically not explored in the Disney world” (Wasko ch. 6). Everything seems to work out for the protagonist, who is always the hero and therefore the victor. Peter’s ambiguous traits are simply left out of the Disney adaptation; no mention is made of him killing anyone, nor does he actually wound any of his enemies on screen. This can also be attributed to another characteristic of Disney movies, namely the avoidance of excessive violence and not explicitly displaying bodily harm or blood. However, both factors seem to work together when we compare the weapons of the pirates to those of Peter and the lost boys: in the film, only Peter carries a sharp weapon, namely a small dagger, while the rest of the boys carry wooden swords and other blunt weapons such as slingshots. In the novel, the lost boys use bow and arrow as well as actual swords (Barrie 72, 174), while the pirates use sharp swords in both versions of the story. Captain Hook owns the most impressive weapon, his hook, in Barrie’s as well as Disney’s version. By making the good guys relatively harmless but still victorious, Disney avoids showing excessive violence, affirms their roles as good or evil characters and shows that good will triumph even if the bad side seems to have the upper hand.

It could be argued that Disney’s portrayal of the pirate Smee, however, does stress ambiguity of character. He is Hook’s right hand, but while his role is that of a villainous pirate his character in the film is typically ‘good’: he is caring, funny, not very intelligent, bespectacled and never harms the children. In the novel his disposition is far from this sweet: “Smee had pleasant names for everything, and his cutlass was Johnny Corkscrew, because he wriggled it around 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” (Barrie 67). Though he still performs typically feminine actions such as sewing, and is described as being “infinitely pathetic” (156), there is a mean streak in him. In the novel, Smee is sent out to drown Tiger Lily and only fails to do so because he obeys what he thinks are Hook’s orders. Disney conveniently chose do let their main villain Hook do the dirty work whilst Smee holds on to the boat (00:40:21). It seems a good-natured pirate would not fit in the typical Disney universe, but as long as Smee does not actively partake in any evil activities he is the perfect example of a good person caught in a bad situation. In the final battle between the pirates and the lost boys, the pirates are beaten and humiliated; all of them apart from Smee, that is. All he does is pack provisions onto the lifeboat during the fight (1:10:30), and since he does not partake his behaviour is not punished.

Disney simplified Barrie’s characters, partly to fit them to the new medium without being forced to use certain narration techniques, mostly to enforce the morals they wanted to teach to the children that would be watching the film. Virtuous behaviour is rewarded and therefore stimulated, whereas bad deeds are punished and therefore discouraged. Disney is the leading authority when it comes to children’s entertainment, and the liberties they take with Barrie’s characters serve a clear purpose: to morally educate the next generation according to their standards.

Works Cited

Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan. 1911. London: Puffin, 2008. Print.

Cartmell, Deborah. “Adapting Children’s Literature”. The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen. Ed. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whehelan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 167-80. Web. 14 Jan. 2017.

Giroux, Henry A. “Animating Youth: the Disneyfication of Children’s Culture”. Socialist Review 24.3 (1995): 23-55. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. London: Routledge, 2006. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.

Peter Pan. Screenplay by Ted Sears and Erdman Penner. Dir. Clyde Geronimi and Wilfred Jackson. Disney Studios, 1953. Film.

Wasko, Janet. Understanding Disney: the Manufacture of Fantasy. 2001. Cambridge: Polity, 2001. Web. 14 Jan. 2017.

Playing vs Fulfilling the Role of the Mother

Peter Pan (1911) by J.M. Barrie and The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1988) by Edith Nesbit are Victorian novels that follow the stories of two underprivileged families who entertain themselves and each other with their imagination. In both stories, the eldest female characters Wendy Darling– from Peter Pan – and Dora Bastable– from The Story of the Treasure Seekers – become the mother figure amongst their group of siblings. The role of the mother is very common in children’s literature and is traditionally given to an older and female protagonist. The role of the mother is necessary in children’s literature especially to give order and to be the person who takes care of the children.

Although the two young girls partake in accomplishing the same role, Wendy plays the role of the mother whereas Dora sees this position as a responsibility that needs to be fulfilled. Since the role of the mother is more of a game to Wendy, she is able to see this position as easy and enjoyable. Her perception of this task is more laid back because to her, it is a game, she is adored for playing this role, and because of the active presence of her parents. On the other hand, Dora struggles with accomplishing this role and does not find it enjoyable at all because it is more so a job for her, she is not appreciated for what she does, and lastly because her parents are absent in her life.

Imagination and playing pretend is a regular habit in the lives of the Darling family – even their Newfoundland dog, Nana, has a role in playing the nursemaid. Acting out the role of the mother is an easy and enjoyable task for Wendy because she is not obligated to take the role seriously. In chapter 6, when Peter tells Wendy that all him and the lost boys need is ” a nice motherly person” (61), Wendy is quick to say that she is just the person they need and replies, “Come inside at once, you naughty children; I am sure your feet are damp. And before I put you to bed I have just time to finish the story of Cinderella” (62). The fact that Peter says that they need a “motherly” person rather than a “mother” suggests that a real mother is not actually needed in their lives, but more so wanted. This adds on to the idea that Wendy is not required to perform any particular responsibilities and that everything she does as a mother is just for fun.

Another scene that proves that Wendy as a mother is all for play is when Peter confronts her about him playing the role of the father. “I was just thinking,” he said, a little scared. “It is only make-believe, isn’t it, that I am their father?” “Oh yes,” Wendy said primly [formally and properly]. “You see,” he continued apologetically, “it would make me seem so old to be their real father.” “But they are ours, Peter, yours and mine.” “But not really, Wendy?” he asked anxiously. (89-90) In this passage, Peter and Wendy confirm that both their roles as parents is not real. This passage also shows how Wendy discreetly wants Peter to play the role of the father because if there is a mother, there has to be a father. Thinking about what should happen in order to make the role feel more genuine demonstrations the actual inauthenticity of Wendy as a mother.

Contrary to Wendy, Dora recognizes the role of the mother as a true responsibility and not a game. She does not think about anybody taking the role as the father; her only focus is on doing her job. Part of Dora’s duty in fulfilling the role of the mother is mending her siblings’ damaged clothing. “Dora is the only one of us who ever tries to mend anything” (24). Chapter 7 of the novel provides many examples of Dora mending her siblings’ clothing. Since the little ones are always recklessly playing around, they often damage their clothing. “[Dora] was trying to mend a large hole in one of Noel’s stockings. He tore it on a nail when we were playing shipwrecked mariners on top of the chicken-house the day H. O. fell off and cut his chin: he has the scar still.” (47) Another responsibility that Dora has is to take care of her siblings. Whenever Dora thinks that a playful suggestion from her siblings is unsafe, she is quick to let them know that she does not like the idea because of their potential dangers, “And though Oswald said half of us could be highwaymen and the other half rescue party, Dora kept on saying it would be wrong to be a highwayman – and so we had to give that up” (36). Dora as the mother is a role that is not easy or enjoyable for her because she takes her job seriously and want to make sure she does well.

In addition to the role of the mother as a character to be played, Wendy enjoys being the mother of the group because she is adored for it. Wendy, as a mother, is a role that has been admired since Peter had first introduced her to the lost boys. “‘Great news, boys,’ he cried, ‘I have brought at last a mother for you all’” (22). When Peter says “I have brought at last a mother for you all”, the “at last” suggests that the lost boys have been looking for a mother and that Wendy is someone of great value to them, even if they never thought about needed a mother beforehand. Playing the role of the mother is an easy job for Wendy especially because she is treated like royalty for it. As soon as the lost boys recognize Wendy as someone of great importance, they do whatever Wendy wants in order to make her happy. “”We’ve built the little walls and roof and made a lovely door, So tell us, mother Wendy, What are you wanting more?” To this she answered greedily: “Oh, really next I think I’ll have Gay windows all about, with roses peeping in, you know, and babies peeping out”” (38). Not only do the lost boys treasure Wendy, but so do the antagonists of the story. On page 74, Mr. Smee, Captain Hook’s right hand man, says, “could we not kidnap these boys’ mother and make her our mother?” Being adored and wanted makes playing the role of the mother stress-free and amusing for Wendy.

Throughout the novel Peter Pan, the role of the mother is mentioned explicitly, which is not the case in The Story of the Treasure Seekers. In fact, Dora is not known for taking the role of the mother. Despite Dora’s hard work in trying to be a mother to the Bastable children, Dora is solely known as the older sister. On page 31, Oswald, the older brother of the group, compares Dora to elder sisters in books and says that she is “just like them”. Since the Bastable children do not understand the effort that Dora puts into taking care of them and trying to make them happy, they do not appreciate her for all that she does for them. An example of the lack of gratitude the Bastable children have for Dora is after she knitted a scarf for her younger brother, Noel, “Once she knitted a red scarf for Noel because his chest is delicate, but it was much wider at one end than the other, and he wouldn’t wear it” (39). Even though Dora tries her best to do good deeds for her younger siblings, they fail to understand Dora’s intentions. Even Oswald, who is the eldest of the Bastable children, is oblivious to Dora’s objectives. Throughout the novel, he describes Dora as a person who is disliked.

In chapter 10, Oswald says, “Dora said she wouldn’t play; she said she thought it was wrong, and she knew it was silly – so we left her out, and she went and sat in the dining-room with a goody-book” (54). Rather than being adored for being responsible, the Bastable children recognize Dora as an interference to their fun. In chapter 11, Dora breaks down after being completely overwhelmed by the ingratitude from her siblings. We walked home very fast and not saying much, and the girls went up to their rooms. When I went to tell them tea was ready, and there was a teacake, Dora was crying like anything and Alice hugging her. I am afraid there is a great deal of crying in this chapter, but I can’t help it. Girls will sometimes; I suppose it is their nature, and we ought to be sorry for their affliction. ‘It’s no good,’ Dora was saying, ‘you all hate me, and you think I’m a prig and a busybody, but I do try to do right – oh, I do! Oswald, go away; don’t come here making fun of me!’ (64) In this passage, Dora expresses the misery that comes along with her attempts in fulfilling the role of the mother. Being unappreciated makes this role especially difficult and stressful for her.

Last but not least, a factor that contributes to the amusement and ease of playing the role of the mother for Wendy is that her parents area actively present in her life. Since the Darling children have parents that constantly play with them and give them their time and affection, they recognize the role of the mother as someone to look up to and adore. Peter Pan also recognizes the strong affection from Mr. and Mrs. Darling, “O Wendy, your mother was telling you such a lovely story” (47). Mrs. Darling is always reading stories to her children. Encouraging the children to use their imagination allows Wendy to try to play the role of the mother as best as she can. In addition to the encouragement to be creative, Wendy does not feel any reason to worry about her parents. Since Wendy is confident in the love her parents have for her, she does not have any concern about losing them. “Wendy did not really worry about her father and mother; she was absolutely confident that they would always keep the window open for her to fly back by, and this gave her complete ease of mind.” (65) With the presence of her parents, Wendy is able to have all the fun she wants in Neverland without a single burden. On the other hand, the biggest and most important reason why Dora struggles with fulfilling the role of the mother is because of the absence of both her parents.

In The Story of the Treasure Seekers, the Bastable children cope with the loss of their mother by distracting themselves and helping their father, who is always working, obtain money. Near the beginning of the novel, Oswald says, “Our Mother is dead, and if you think we don’t care because I don’t tell you much about her you only show that you do not understand people at all” (45). This quote displays the desire of Oswald to not discuss the pain he feels now that his mother is gone. Another example that shows the Bastable children ignoring the thought of their mother is when Albert-next-door’s uncle confronts the children about Albert’s mother’s fear, “’We’re very, very sorry. We didn’t think about his mother. You see we try very hard not to think about other people’s mothers…’” (14) Although the Bastable children, as a whole, try not to think about their mother, she is constantly on Dora’s mind because she passed on her role to her, “And when Mother died she said, “Dora, take care of the others, and teach them to be good, and keep them out of trouble and make them happy.” She said, “Take care of them for me, Dora dear.”” (34). Fulfilling the role of the mother is especially hard for Dora because she feels the obligation to put the little girl in her aside in order to successfully satisfy this role. Dora spends so much time taking care of her siblings that there is not anyone who stops to take care of her.

In conclusion, although J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Edith Nesbit’s The Story of the Treasure Seekers give the role of the mother a similar importance, there are different ways of perceiving the role as the person accomplishing it. When the role is being played for the sole purpose of having fun, it is easy and stress-free to do. However, the role of the mother is more hectic and difficult to fulfill when one is obligated to take it seriously. Although Wendy and Dora both have the intentions to be a good mother figure and take care of their group of children, it is Dora who takes the role of a real mother due to the fact that it is a job rather than a play to her.

Snakes and Snails and Games of Murder

“Grown up, and that is a terribly hard thing to do. It is much easier to skip it and go from one childhood to another.”(Fitzgerald) In Peter and Wendy, the child characters do not portray romanticized, heroic behaviors, but instead the realistic traits found in everyday children. Thus, the absence of moral thinking due to parental absences causes the children to challenge the nature of good and evil throughout the novel. By bringing to light the fundamental aspects of Peter Pan’s personality, ambitions and behavior, and by analyzing the savage mentality of the Lost Boys, it becomes clear that much like the fantastical island of Neverland, the surface is much prettier than what lies underneath.

The first and foremost culprit of such duplicity is Peter Pan. From beginning to end and beyond, Pan is known as the boy who won’t grow up. As such, he exhibits anti-heroic, more childish behavioral traits. Time and time again, he stoops to narcissism, arrogance, and the irresponsible pursuit for pleasure. This is seen when the Darling children are following Peter through the skies of Kensington Gardens for the first time.Eventually Peter would dive through the air, and catch Michael just before he could strike the sea, and it was lovely the way he did it; but he always waited till the last moment, and you felt it was his cleverness that interested him and not the saving of human life. Also he was fond of variety, and the sport that engrossed him one moment would suddenly cease to engage him, so there was always the possibility that the next you fell he would let you go.(Barrie 42)Here, Peter pays more attention to the game than to Michael’s life.Pan’s role in the story is as the greatest child of all. Because of this, it follows that he acts such. Throughout the novel, he never takes responsibility for the lives of his friends. He pushes them to take enormous risk for the gain of his own selfish pleasure; and he feels no guilt for the death of Lost Boys, which are said be “thinned off” rather frequently in their continuous dealings pirates. All in all, Peter Pan treats life and death as game, as he treats all things, because he is a child.

Although it can be said that Pan exhibits heroic behavior at times; for example, when he sets out to rescue princess Tiger Lily from the pirates holding her hostage at Marooner’s Rock; it can be also be contested that this is not, infact, an act of altruism, but instead what Peter sees as a fun game to pass the time; “He was less sorry than Wendy for Tiger Lily; it was two against one that angered him, and he meant to save her. An easy way would have been to wait until the pirates had gone, but he was never one to choose the easy way.”(88) Thus, once again, all Peter has in mind at the moment is the thrill of the challenge, choosing the method of rescuing containing the most risk. This strange personality quirk is one of Pan’s most defining. Often throughout the novel, it is said that Pan is different than the other children on the island. Perhaps due to seniority, Pan is a deeper epitome of childishness than the rest. Peter has no fears, so he feels no desire for safety, and he has no memory, so he doesn’t understand change or loss. And there is something else he does not have, though it is an emptiness that is more difficult to name. For convenience, J. M. Barrie calls it ‘heartlessness’, because without it there can’t be anything like love. (LitCharts)Here, we understand why Peter Pan acts the way he does.

As Wendy and her brothers are able to maintain their morality and good sense instilled into them back in Kensington Gardens, it is clear that Pan is a special kind of boy: He is forgetful (most marking events disappear from his mind the minute they roll into the past) allowing him to remain untouched by emotional pulls such as nostalgia or regret. Furthermore, he reigns as a sort of god in Neverland. Blessed with flight and immortality, the island never fails to wake upon his return and bend to his will as he soars about. Therefore, with all the power Pan has, as well as the lack of the ability to learn from past mistakes, his morality is bound to become convoluted. “Man is not, by nature, deserving of all that he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, that is when we start walking all over others to get it.” (Criss Jami)

Whether it be Pan’s impact, or a development of their own doing, the other children are morally contorted as well. Many times in the story, the children’s incapability for understanding the rights, wrongs and consequences of their actions breeds grotesque acts of murder. “Wendy was now almost overhead, and they could hear her plaintive cry.[…] Tink’s reply rang out: ‘Peter wants you to shoot the Wendy.’ It was not in their nature to question when Peter ordered, ‘Let us do what Peter wishes,’ cried the simple boys. ‘Quick, bows and arrows.’”(Barrie 64) Here, the children do not question their decision before acting. There is no moral reflection as the boys concede to shoot Wendy by a command given to them by simple hear-say. Without question, reflection, or reasoning, the boys prepare to commit an act of murder.Some may contest that the children’s’ soldier-like demeanor as they fight under the command of Peter Pan is all in good fun and such an analysis is over-dramatized for the sake of a children’s story. However, there is a mentality present among the Lost Boys that suggest something other than simple childish adventures. The question of battle and blood is a question no longer in the minds of these children: They wake up everyday with bloodshot in their eyes, quickly getting dressed and fed so that they may chase after pirates with their swords and weapons. At one point, Pan even goes as far as to state; “I taught you to fight and to fly. What more could there be?” (107)These gruesome details are elegantly disguised by Barrie as he uses humor and whimsy to sugarcoat them. However, these elements are not to be used to excuse such details, but rather to contrast them so that they may be emphasized.

It is clear that while Peter Pan may have been aimed at an audience of children, Barrie was also imbibing his work with serious adult content, which did not go unnoticed by the British and American theater-going public of the early 20th century. Although he created a fairy land of delightful imaginings to amuse and bewitch children for ages to come, he also illustrated the darker side of that childhood land of imagination. (Doln)The final statement in regards to the young children’s morality is especially seen in the development made by the Darling children. In the climax, horrifying phrases are finally able to chill the reader, and shock them into a dark realization. But it’s just for fun, right? It’s a story for heaven’s sake, a story about a boy in the woods playing soldier or cowboys and Indians, playing all those wild games that we all know so well and enjoyed plenty when we were little. But then comes the climactic scene on the pirate ship where the Darling children and Lost Boys must be rescued, and quite suddenly, the game is over. ‘There was little sound to be heard but the clang of weapons, an occasional screech or splash, and Slightly [one of the Lost Boys] monotonously counting-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten-eleven.’ In the end there are fifteen dead pirates, with only two surviving to swim to shore. Captain James Hook is, of course, pushed overboard after a long fight with Peter and meets his fate in the jaws of his crocodile nemesis. Wendy does not take part in the fight, but afterwards ‘praised them all equally and shuddered delightfully when Michael [her youngest brother and usually portrayed in footie pajamas] showed her the place where he had killed one…’ As soon as she realizes the lateness of the hour she immediately insists that all the boys go to bed, except Peter, who struts up and down on the deck. “He had one of his dreams that night, and cried in his sleep for a long time, and Wendy held him tight.’ (Mondor) The children act out horrific and cruel deeds mercilessly, and worst of all, they do not realize their wrong-doings. In this final event especially, the Lost Boy’s capability for uninhibited blood-lust blurs the line between heroic action and primal pursuit of the hunt. The children’s ignorance of basic human morals not only highlights their naivety, but their ignorance as well. Thus, child-like innocence, as presented in this novel, cannot be linked to goodness.

To conclude, the story of Peter and Wendy is often acclaimed for its whimsical integration of the Fairytale with the Adventure Story, however it must also be acknowledged, on a more critical level, for its deep understanding of childlike behavior in a world absent of adults and adult-made morals. By deconstructing Pan’s character and by bringing to trial the Lost Boys’ criminality, it is undeniable that Barrie presents childhood as raw, real and easily corrupted. If nothing else, Peter and Wendy expresses the freedom of youthful ignorance alongside the embedded notions of morality, and forces the reader to reflect. As said by critic Jack R.D.S, “Peter Pan, by highlighting the cruelty of children, the power-worship of adults, the impossibility of eternal youth, the inadequacy of narcissistic and bisexualsolutions, presents a very harsh view of the world made palatable by humor and held at an emotional distance by wit and the dream.”

Perpetual Childhood in Peter Pan

Almost every child begins in this world dreaming of fairytales. She imagines herself a princess like Disney’s Ariel or Sleeping Beauty: bursting into song, radiating beauty, and living happily-ever-after. But when this child grows up, she realizes that Disney fairytales are just sugarcoated versions of the true stories: the Grimm brothers’ tales. She discovers that Ariel never wins Prince Eric and instead becomes sea foam; she learns that Prince Phillip rapes Sleeping Beauty instead of saving her. In other words, she uncovers the harshness of reality. Although readers tend to regard Peter Pan as a simple children’s tale, Barrie actually comments on the nature of childhood in his work. If Peter Pan represents the quintessential, eternal child, then his characterization shows children’s naivety concerning justice: they lack the ability to approach the topic logically.

Although the novel centers on the adventures of many children, Peter Pan is the only ideal, eternal child among them. The simplest evidence of this fact is that Peter never physically grows older; every other child, including the lost boys from Neverland, becomes an adult by the end. When Wendy is a mother and Peter visits her, he appears unchanged and still has “his first teeth.” (Barrie 155). Although the years have passed and Wendy has married, Peter is still a boy. Even the former lost boys, whom Peter forbids from growing up, have matured; Nibs and Curly work office jobs, Slightly marries a lady, and Tootles becomes a judge (153). Moreover, the only human who flies throughout the entire book is Peter. Adults can no longer do so because “It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly” (154). Once a child loses his ability to be “gay and innocent and heartless,” he grows up. Peter never loses this ability, however, and continues teaching new generations of children, like Jane and Margaret, to fly for the rest of eternity. Furthermore, Barrie constantly sets Peter apart from the lost boys, the only other children who initially appear to be immortal. For example, Peter cannot distinguish imagined scenarios from reality, although the other lost boys can (64). Therefore, it is logical to assume that they are more mature and grown-up than he is. Additionally, Peter dresses in skeleton leaves while the other boys dress in bearskins (15, 49). Peter’s clothing symbolizes death, as these leaves only have their fibrous structure remaining and resemble skeletons. Whereas the other boys can grow up, Peter is possibly trapped as a child because he is dead and can no longer grow. In this case, the reader should consider the fact that Peter Pan is possibly based upon Barrie’s older brother David, who died in an accident at a young age. Though the book’s main characters are mostly children, Peter is the only one who remains one until the end.

When examining the novel under Freudian lens, the reader finds that Neverland becomes a metaphor for a child’s id, further enforcing the idea of Peter as the ideal child. Barrie describes multiple Neverlands as the maps of children’s minds. More specifically, “he locates the Neverland [as] a poetic version of the Freudian id” (Egan 44). A child’s id is the innate and primitive part of his psyche. As Peter Pan emerges victorious in Barrie’s adventures in Peter’s own domain, it becomes clear that Peter is the child living in his own id. He represents the eternal child who perpetually returns to the most immature part of his psyche: in this case, Neverland.

Throughout the book, Peter bears flawed views on fairness; he believes in justice only in certain situations. Noticeably, he treats Hook with the most courtesy because he views the pirate as a worthy enemy. At the start of the story, Peter indignantly tells John that he would never kill Hook in his sleep (Barrie 45). Later, when fighting Hook on higher ground, Peter realizes that continuing “would not have been fighting fair. He gave [Hook] a hand to help him up” (84). Then, despite Hook betraying Peter’s trust in this previous scene, the boy once again shows the captain fairness. On the pirate ship, when Hook drops his weapon, “with a magnificent gesture Peter invited his opponent to pick up the sword” (135). Every time Hook almost loses, Peter ensures that they are on a level playing field before continuing the fight. In a departure from this nobleness, Peter is incredibly unfair to those he considers inferior to him. On the same pirate’s ship, Peter hides in a cabin “as black as a pit” and mercilessly kills Hook’s lowly crew while they are at a disadvantage (130). Peter does not feel the need to level the playing field in this situation by giving up the advantage of surprise or allowing the pirates to see him; he simply kills them while they are unaware. The boy even mistreats his own crew; he reigns as their absolute ruler and treats “[the lost boys] as dogs… Slightly got a dozen [whip lashes] for looking perplexed when told to take soundings” (140). After defeating Hook, Peter takes on the cruel pirate’s persona and treats the lost boys like slaves, even whipping them. When readers view Peter under the Freudian lens again, they will see that Peter always wins in Neverland, his own world of primitive logic. His final victory over Hook “and the emblematic crocodile are linked in many ways. First, of course, Hook ultimately perishes in its jaws” (Egan 52). Peter triumphs over both Hook and the ticking crocodile, which symbolizes time. The boy beats time as he never has to grow up, whereas Hook “perishes in [time’s] jaws.” Later, the adult Wendy finds that Peter views the victory as inconsequential and has already forgotten it and moved on to other exciting conquests. To Peter, a vital, logical part of fairness is his own triumph above all else.

After coming to see Peter Pan as the ideal child, the reader can use Peter’s reactions to unfair experiences in relation to child psychology to understand how children deal with the reality of fairness. For instance, injustice always shocks Peter, and he never fully grasps that the world is unfair. After he helps Hook up the rock, Hook attacks Peter. The action’s unfairness, not its pain, is what dazes Peter; in fact, “Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly” (Barrie 84). Peter treats Hook fairly but Hook betrays him in response. In turn, Peter is naively injured by injustice as he expects the gesture to be returned but, even in his own world of Neverland, the world is an unfair place. Unsurprisingly, this type of experience is common across the real world as all children have “at some time or other wailed, ‘It’s not fair.’ To which the adults answer, ‘Life isn’t fair’…[with] an understanding that a vital lesson is being imparted” (Diski 52). Every child inherently believes in his naïve idea of fairness and feels betrayed when life proves otherwise. However, adults already know the “vital lesson” of the world’s unfairness and teach it to children, thereby allowing them to mature as well. Taking this idea further, Peter remains a child forever because he always forgets this injustice. Barrie writes, “[No one else] gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter. He often met it but he always forgot it. I suppose that was the real difference between him and all the rest” (85). Peter, unlike other children who remember and grow from the first experience, never progresses past the remembering stage. In fact, often “within the literature of childhood innocence… the movement out of childhood is seen as the gradual acquiring of secret knowledge” (Mills 64). Children begin moving into adulthood when they acquire knowledge of reality and its unfairness. Peter, however, never retains this knowledge so he forever remains a child. Every time he begins his growth into adulthood, he forgets the experience and regresses back into the naivety of childhood. Children cannot logically understand justice until they begin to mature; this is why Peter never fully understands fairness.

Peter Pan is far from a child’s tale: Barrie actually uses his story to peer deeply into a child’s psyche and comment on a child’s inability to grasp the reality of justice. However, he also writes more subtly about the tradeoff between the gaiety of childhood and the wisdom of adulthood. After all, Peter is tied down to no one and can boyishly gallivant wherever he pleases, but he never experiences the depth of love. Although he can forever fly at pleasure, so could many other children before they grew up. In the end, it is the fleetingness of childhood that makes it valuable. Peter is the only boy who never has to grow up, but he is also the only one who is always excluded from the rosy family picture. Peter Pan may be eternally “gay and innocent,” but he is also forever “heartless.” Because of his selfishness, he will never feel or give any love. So, although Disney romances may be fun to imagine, reality is much more complex. Besides, for every harsh Grimm brothers story there exists another beautiful story of real love. Barrie never declares this opinion outright, but it is clear that growing into a selfless person who can give and receive love is a far more precious endeavor than frolicking the shallow joys of childhood forever.