Books: Peter Pan is Misunderstood

Screenshot from Disney’s ‘Peter Pan’. Copyright goes to Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I’ve done a post on the best adaptations of Peter Pan before, which was very fun because I absolutely love Peter Pan; but I don’t think I was able to say everything I wanted to about the character of Peter himself. (I’ve also been thinking about Peter Pan more because of ATEEZ most recently leaning into the lost boys theming.) Peter Pan is a character that I feel is highly misunderstood by most, and really not in the way you would think. When most people think of Peter Pan they think of escaping with a heroic figure to a land where dreams come true and you never grow up. I’ve barely touched on this before, but Peter Pan is not really a hero. He’s an amazing character and a comfort to me, but I wouldn’t exactly describe him as a hero. At least, not for most of whatever book or movie he’s in. I’m not creating this post to kill your dreams about Peter Pan, but there are things we should acknowledge about him.

The Stories:

I find that a lot of people take the beginning of Peter Pan and twist it so that Peter, in an act of selflessness, sees that Wendy wants to escape and decides to take her with him to Neverland. Some people even say that Peter had fallen in love with Wendy. None of these really seem to be the case though. When Wendy tells Peter that in some versions she’s going to be moved from the nursery, Peter is definitely appalled and doesn’t want her to grow up. But I don’t think this is as much concern for Wendy as it is his regular disgust for growing up. Peter wants to take Wendy to Neverland because of the stories. Peter Pan sits at the window and listens to her stories and, essentially, falls in love with the stories she tells. In some versions her stories are actually about him. He’s definitely not a humble kid. This is kind of proven when John and Michael also want to go to Neverland and Peter initially doesn’t want to take them as well. He only takes them when Wendy insists, and at various times forgets that they’re even there. Peter does not have a good memory, especially when it comes to the things that he doesn’t care so much about.

Wendy, Tinkerbell, and Tiger Lily:

There are many versions of the story where all three female characters that show up have a crush on Peter. In the 2003 movie Tiger Lily has a crush on John instead, which was something that shocked me because I had never seen that before. But there’s even a book called ‘Tiger Lily’ by Jodi Lynn Anderson that focuses on her character and her love for Peter. The book also dives a bit more into why Peter might not be the best person to have a crush on. With Tinkerbell it is implied that she has always loved Peter. Something that doesn’t quite make sense to me because in the book and in several movies, fairies are described as only being capable of feeling one emotion at a time. If this were true, then Tink cannot always love Peter. Whenever she feels jealousy towards Wendy she wouldn’t love Peter anymore. But I digress. Anyways, Peter never does anything to bring on their advances, he’s generally ignorant of it, but he also never does anything to dissuade them. They give him more attention because they’re all in love with him, and Peter is generally happy as long as someone is giving him attention. His relationship with each of these characters is mostly as deep as he wants it to be. Which is, often, not all that deep.

The Heroics:

None of this is to say that Peter Pan is completely not a hero. Because that isn’t true either. Though it really depends on the situation whether or not he’s being heroic for his sake or someone else’s. I would argue that he initially views the rescue of Tiger Lily at Skull Rock as nothing more than a game. He spends much of his time making fun of Hook and, in the Disney version, even forgets to save Tiger Lily. Wendy has to remind him to go back into Skull Rock to do what they were essentially there to do, and Tiger Lily is very annoyed and almost drowned by the time he gets to her. In other versions of this scene, Peter almost dies instead. Peter immediately turns to look at this as a game by saying that “to die would be an awfully big adventure”. But Peter eventually sees the value of life and learns not to throw his life and the lives of others around so carelessly. He amends his statement to the very powerful; “to live would be an awfully big adventure”. A note that gives hope to anyone who reads or hears it. In fact, the movie ‘Hook’ closes out with this line. And I think this is also evidence of Peter growing as well. Peter realizes that he doesn’t want himself or his friends to die and faces Hook head on for the sake of his friends by the end of the story. He is incredibly selfish, but he does learn a bit more about what it means to be a hero throughout each adaptation.

Growing Up:

I definitely relate to Peter Pan as many do. Nobody really wants to grow up. And even at the end of each adaptation, Peter stays in Neverland. Even though in many cases he stays without the lost boys, as the lost boys are convinced by Wendy to grow up. In a way this is because of his fear, but in a way Peter also knows that there will be more lost boys to take care of. Peter Pan is almost an exact halfway between hero and villain. He is both at different times. He is both selfish and kind. I mean, he tells Wendy at the beginning of the story that there are only lost boys because girls are too intelligent to fall out of their prams. Nice, right? Peter will always be a comforting presence that represents escapism. But we shouldn’t talk about the character like he’s not flawed.

If you want a more concise view of the Peter Pan character I would highly recommend checking out Andrew Ducote’s video on Peter Pan on the Thingamavlogs channel, where he probably sums this up better than I do. He is more or less an actor who used to be “friends” with Peter Pan at Disneyland park and married his wife, Hali, who used to be “friends” with Wendy and Alice. He has such an understanding and love for that character that it’s infectious. But one of the things that makes Peter so great is that he’s flawed. It makes him a better written and more dynamic character. It makes him more interesting and even more loveable. But, seriously, think twice before you fall in love with Peter. Seriously.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

2 thoughts on “Books: Peter Pan is Misunderstood

  1. This is an excellent analysis of Peter Pan as a character! I love it when I see discussions of him as a kind of antihero because he fits the mold so well and it really makes his character arc through the years of adaptations feel so rewarding. Something that always stood out to me as a kid is how easy it is to fall in love with the little rascal as he is presented in film or on the stage despite how things don’t always turn out so great for the hearts that do, so I really like that you wrote a section about that here. It’s excellent food for thought.

    Thank you for bringing my attention to that vlog as well! I just finished watching it and I think you did a fantastic job of expanding on what Andrew Ducote said.

    Like

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