LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Racial Tensions in Peter Pan Adaptations: Then and Now

J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan has endured in the hearts of both children and adults since he first appeared in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Though this character has served as a classic symbol for childhood and children’s literature, he also indicates a much more racist period in culture and history.

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“The Great White Father” was the working title of the original play by J.M. Barrie. This references racist elements of the story Peter Pan and Wendy and of Peter’s character. Though the play’s producer ultimately rejected this title, the term “redskin,” borrowed from United States racial jargon, was still used in the play to specify indigenous populations. The way that Barrie depicts the indigenous characters, too, denotes stereotypically savage behavior of an aggressive tribe out to wreak havoc on the Lost Boys, a group of young white children, when they think the Boys snatched the chief’s daughter.

Interestingly enough, it seems that more recent adaptations have sought to address and correct such blatantly racist implications. The 2003 film adaptation Peter Pan provides one example of this. In the original book and play (and most adaptations) the characters Wendy and Tiger Lily often stand in direct contrast. Even though they are both women, and depicted as weaker than Peter, Wendy is presented as stronger and more intelligent than Tiger Lily, her indigenous counterpart. Tiger Lily, on the other hand, is very helpless and has hardly anything (intelligent or otherwise) to say. In Peter Pan (2003), however, Tiger Lily, played by an Iroquois actress, does not play into this earlier established stereotype. Instead, she is depicted as a fiery, defiant young lady, who stands her ground against Captain Hook. She even contrasts her original damsel-in-distress depiction and actively saves John Darling from a band of pirates.

While there are racial tensions that will never be able to be completely taken out of Peter Pan adaptations without changing the story, recent adaptations, such as 2003’s Peter Pan successfully combats some of the racial prejudices illustrates in Barrie’s original book and play.

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Extra Credit: Hush

I attended the Graduate Comics Organization on March 15th, and listened to three different speakers, two females, and a male. I did not enjoy the presentation style of the two females because it felt forced, and sans passion for their research. That being said, when Matthew Ziegler, a presenter from Truman State University, spoke, I was very impressed. He delivered his presentation with casual elegance and subtle poise. It was clear that this presentation meant a great deal to him and he used this opportunity to demonstrate that. He gave a very impacting speech about a comic called Hush. This is a comic that originated in India and really intrigued Matthew to learn more. It is a comic that has no words or text, but only images. This way, the story is completely open to subjective interpretation. While this is true, the fact that the main character of the story was raped by her father is very well supported. The images just reveal too much pain to deny that.

The characters of the comic have no names, perhaps as a means to relate to more exterior individuals rather than just the characters in the story. The images that I perfectly remember are images that show pain and sorrow. Images of the main character with a smoking gun in a classroom, which symbolizes the murder she committed as an act of vengeance to salvage some sense of strength. She shot a teacher, who happened to be her father, because he repeatedly raped her throughout the course of her life. She uses the same handgun to kill herself because she kept seeing his image. While this is the basic plot of the story, Matthew was more interested in the way the images were portrayed as means of “speaking” to the audience, because of the lack of any text. The use of emotions, shadows, and gloomy imagery spoke more to me than did the mere appearance of an image as a whole. Matthew mentioned that this story applied to conflicts that are ongoing in India, in which women are the oppressed gender and males have a sense of supremacy. The interpretation that the main character was raped can be used to signify the “rape” of women in a society that is fit for the male gender.

I agree with the speaker, especially because of the manner in which he developed his approach. He stated what he felt about the images as parts and as a whole to envelop the entire text. After he laid out his argument, he went into why he believed it. He was able to support every point he made with the use of the images provided in the comic as sites of evidence. He was asked three questions from the audience and he was able to answer them all with ready success and no hesitation.

I learned just how powerful a small, wordless comic really can be. It told a story simply through the use of images, but it told a much larger story about the strife in India. It made me aware of current events that I was not aware of, and made me feel proud to know that this is another means of getting the knowledge out there.

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Extra Credit Response: Hush, the wordless comic from India

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The somber cover of the comic.

I attended the graduate school conference for comics and learned about three very different comics, none of which fell into the usual superhero or comedy genres. Three students presented their papers and discussed and argued for ideas concerning the comics, usually involving a combination of theme with the comic’s manipulation of its form. The topic that resonated most with me involved a student presenting a very unique comic in India, one that contained no dialogue and only utilized images to convey its story. The student argued that the comic, titled Hush, not only surmounted comic tropes but also conveyed an Indian woman’s feeling of helplessness and futility in a world dominated by men.

The comic itself follows the story of an unnamed student who is repeatedly raped by her father. After years of  abuse, she shoots him (or so what appears to be him) in a class room and eventually shoots herself, but only after hallucinating his appearance after killing him. The bulk of the student’s presentation centered upon the nuances within the text (for example, the use of shading and how it correlated with the protagonist’s mood) and how the author used unconventional methods to create a feeling of helplessness in a man’s world. Although the comic only detailed the woman’s struggle with her father and her descent into madness and misery, the student claimed that the comic could be interpreted as a microcosm for the frustration of women everywhere in India in the face of male dominance. I found this idea very compelling, especially since I know many books from the United States used similar (although not as drastic) plots and character arcs to build upon the idea of a frightening sense of male dominance. The student’s argument that rape is the best metaphor for the feelings of Indian woman in their society also strengthens his argument. Many literary scholars and critics point to the use of rape in literature as a device to communicate feelings of degradation, helplessness, and inferiority. A rape represents the sickest and most final display of power of a man over a woman, so it makes sense why an author would employ a rape as a metaphor for the woman experience in India.

The student organized his paper very well and managed a consistent flow throughout. After summarizing the basic premise of the comic, he showed the audience page by page the events that unfolded and offered analysis for each image and plot point. This helped greatly with buildings his arguments by informing the audience of the plot of the comic, with which he was then able to naturally analyze and argue to the reader without having the reader be potentially confused. The only issue I found with this method was its conduciveness to time, for each presenter was allowed only ten or so minutes to present their topic in full. Although a separate reader would have his or her own time to read and fully digest the paper, an audience member here is limited by the time constraints of the panel and thus could feel as though the paper’s presentation was rushed. However, I felt that the student aptly presented and explained his paper within the time constraints. I definitely learned a variety of ways one could present a paper from this panel, particularly the method of building upon an argument while simultaneously guiding the audience chronologically through a work. I could see how this method would fail to hold up with a longer work, though. Overall, I greatly valued going to the panel and learning how grad students present papers on works of literature.

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The Role of the Man in The Wizard of Oz

I wanted to expand upon a comment I wrote about gender roles in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

As I said, I think that the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man all have a duality to their nature.  The Scarecrow is on a masculine search, the search for brains.  He proves his worth to the group time and time again by coming up with schemes and ideas to get them across rivers or across canyons.  When Oz is in need of a new leader, he is the first choice, represented as the smartest, the best, and the most capable.

The Lion is also on a manly search for courage, but initially, he is shy and scared.  Throughout the story he comes into his manliness, becoming stronger and more brave, and able to protect the group.  He has a moment of weakness in the field of poppies and requires the help of little field mice to help him out, but his bulk and his weight which makes it a bit of a more difficult process assert his inherent masculinity.

The Tin Man is lovesick and on a journey for a new heart, so it’s reasonable to suggest that he would be more of an effeminate character, but throughout the novel he proves his manliness time and time again by cutting down trees, constructing rafts, and killing attackers to keep the group safe and sound on their journey to see Oz.

Both the Lion and the Scarecrow’s journey is a quest to become more masculine and even though the Tin Man’s desire for a heart is more effeminate, he too goes through a transformation into a stronger, more capable man.

Through these examples, Baum explores the idea that to be a man is to be in a position of power.  It requires cunning and bravery and strength.  Men are the leaders and the protectors of his world.

The only women in power are the witches, who are represented as either good or evil.  The good witches are ladylike and good and pure who bestow kisses on lost little girls to protect them, and the evil ones are simply easily destroyed, or cast away characters.  The only way to survive as a woman in the land of Oz is to be good and innocent like Dorothy and the good witches.

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What Kind of Classic is Peter Pan?

Whether or not Peter Pan is a classic is not a very difficult question.  Of course it is.

All of

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Wait, this isn’t the only one?

the various

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Probably my favorite version.

adaptations

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Welp, that one’s a woman

of

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Robin Williams in tights. Not a good look.

the text can attest to that (and I’ve only listed some of the film versions [other works can be found here]).

However, I argue that Peter Pan is a very specialized type of classic.  It is not only a classic where no one bothers to read the original text, but it is also a classic that is remembered in the same way as most medieval texts–as an overall, conglomerate, archetypal, text.  This is due to the fact that there is not one “original” Peter Pan text.

Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” does not exist in a single manuscript.  Instead, there are 83 known manuscripts with multitudes of variation between them. Chaucerians compare them all, and attempt to make the so-called “definitive” text.

Similarly, Shakespeare’s “King Lear” (although not Medieval) exists in two forms: the “Tragedy of King Lear” and the “History of King Lear.”  At first, scholars thought they were simply conflicting manuscripts of the same story, and tried to create a conglomerate version of the text.  (It was not until later that they realized they were two different plays and were intended as such.)

Finally, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table exist in so many forms that Arthur himself is simply a conglomerate form of everything that has been written on him.  Each text about him describes him differently, and so he is remembered in his simplest form–the just king who will return to bring balance to the kingdom (no one remembers that his table of supposed equals is actually inherently flawed, that he is the result of just-barely-not-rape, or his incestuous relationship with his sister).

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But maybe we should just forgive this sexy beast for that.

Peter Pan exists in a similar state.  The varied and various texts about him differ so greatly that no one bothers to read them anymore, since they really only complicate him.  Instead, they have created a conglomerate form out of the most fun versions of him:  the boy who can fly, who never grows up, who plays with fairies and Indians, who fights pirates.  We only marginally see, in the modern conception of him, all of his flaws: the boy who kidnaps young children, who is so far removed from society that he doesn’t know what a kiss or a thimble is, the boy who is cursed to always be alone, and never grow up.

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Everyone Grows Up Eventually—Or Do They?

J. M. Barrie is an individual whose childhood did not end with the progression of his age or rather, arguably, ever.  Like the character of Peter Pan, he attempted to live a very whimsical life seemingly unscathed by the harsh realities of the world around him.  He tried to appear as if he was never consumed by many of the qualities of adulthood and viewed many of life’s greatest complexities in the same way that a young child would.  This could explain why his marriage to his wife reportedly persisted unconsummated or why he developed such a strong, playful relationship with the Llewelyn Davies boys.  Aside from the belief that Barrie could have written many of his stories for children, I believe that a stronger argument can be made that he was expressing his own inner desires to live the life of Peter Pan in both Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and later Peter and Wendy.  This could explain why the themes of endless childhood and escape persist so strongly throughout his stories.

J. M. Barrie playing “Neverland” with Michael Llewelyn Davies

Barrie’s childhood life could be considered to be extremely traumatic by many.  His brother, David, the favorite of his mother, died at a young age, which reportedly affected him so greatly that he became a victim of psychogenic dwarfism—a disorder which could have accounted for his small stature for the rest of his life.  Barrie reportedly attempted on numerous occasions to fill the void in his mother’s life that was created by David’s death to partial avail.  The theme of being replaced or not truly prized by his mother can be seen in one of Peter’s returns home from Kensington Gardens in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.  However, I believe that the trauma of a life not fully recognized by his mother may have been what was truly too hard to handle perhaps even more so than his own brother’s death.  The character Peter Pan is first introduced as an infant who escapes from his home on an adventure to Kensington Gardens, a place filled with magic and fantasy.  As a reader, I believe that this portrays Barrie’s desire to escape to the Kensington Gardens and, later, Neverland that he described in his books—an opportunity to live a magical and forever-childlike life away from the problems associated with reality.

J. M. Barrie appears to have an obsession with childhood.  Readers can see Peter’s eternal childhood as either a blessing or a curse, but I believe that Barrie truly envied this quality of his most famous creation.  I believe that his inner feelings appear through much of the text, and it seems as if he views childhood and youth as a blessing and the consequential growth into adulthood as a curse.  In Peter and Wendy, Barrie states that Wendy knew she needed to grow up at one point in her life after one of her conversations with her mother and that this realization often comes after the age of two, which he defines as being the beginning of the end.  The claim is true that all children eventually must grow up no matter how hard they try to fight it.  However, J. M. Barrie made an interesting case for the opposition.  With the stature and emotional or even mental capacity of a child, he may have succeeded in temporarily elongating the length of his childhood through the creation of a character and story that he could live vicariously through—the story of Peter Pan.

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Peter Pan: Appropriate for Children Today?

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J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan or Peter Pan and Wendy has been classified as a children’s novel during its initial release, however, for contemporary readers it can be read by young adults. Most children would recognize the character of Peter Pan through the animated Disney films and the wide variety of film adaptations of the novel. The novel during the time was undoubtedly considered a novel for children despite the violent scenes and dark undertones. For children today it may be a little too much for them to handle, especially with the rise of parental concern and censorship. Children ranging for ages 5-9 would probably be better off watching the interactive animated show, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, which is based on the Peter Pan franchise. Once a child is a little older and less sheltered they may be allowed to read the original novel considering it still provides elements and themes a child would love.

Some portions in the novel that may concern some parents may include the actions and personalities of some of the characters. For example, there is a location in Never Land known as Mermaid’s Lagoon where mermaids sing songs to entice and attract potential victims in which they then drown for their own amusement. Then we have the notorious Captain Hook, who dedicates his life to get revenge on Peter Pan for literally cutting his right hand off and feeding it to a crocodile. To a child today, they would most likely view Hook as the obligatory antagonist whose sole purpose is to oppose the hero, Peter Pan. However, there is more to Hook than just the character with the role of the dastardly villain, in fact he can be interpreted as an intimidating adult who is obsessed with finding and killing a mere child. If the hook for a right hand was not enough, the pirate seems to have psychopathic tendencies throughout the novel. Although it may be an exaggeration, Hook may be too scary of a character for young children considering he is not a comedic buffoon as his Disney animated film counterpart. He even attempts to kill Peter Pan by switching his medicine with poison. Moreover, if Hook is not a nightmare inducing character for a young child then perhaps being devoured alive by a crocodile would seal the deal.

Aside from some dark moments in the novel, the overall story is perfect for any child who has a sense of adventure. Considering Peter Pan and Wendy was initially in the form of a play, the novel incorporates some interaction between the characters and the readers. Children are able to relate to these characters or at times even look up to them as possible influences. Barrie’s writing style compliments the interests of many young readers and it can be certain that contemporary young readers would get the same feel from the novel as children did throughout the early 20th century. In fact, the novel can be read by both male and female readers as it includes elements of action, adventure, and a small hint of romance. Overall, Peter Pan and Wendy can be an interesting read for a contemporary younger audience; however, perhaps those under the age of 8 may have to wait a little longer to get a better grasp of the novel and handle some of the dark themes that were acceptable during the Golden Age of literature.

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“Saying Goodbye”

One of my favorite quotes from J.M Barrie is “Never say goodbye, because goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting.” This quote is not located in the book or any of the movies, although it is said that Barrie mentioned in one of his interviews. Since Peter Pan was a big success it became really famous.

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 Peter Pan was one of my favorite movies and books to read when I was a child. Sometime I still believe I am Peter Pan because I do not want to grow up. Seeing the people in my life that I care for growing older and passing is difficult for me.When Barrie used this quote I can imagine Peter Pan saying it to Wendy because he loves her and she is leaving him to go back to her normal life and he does not want to forget her. It is hard for Peter Pan to never grow up because he will never grow old with Wendy. New people surround Peter every century and he will have to forget all of these people because they will leave him and he will continue to be the same age.Wendy does not want to forget about the boy she loves. She is the only one in her family who truly believes, though she tells herself not to. The mention of the quote was more exposed to the public after the Peter Pan movie made in 2003. The audience believes that Barrie was feeling this way during his time when he wrote Peter Pan and the director of the movie wanted to show the world the meaning of goodbye once again. Wendy expresses naïve adoration for Peter Pan as soon as they meet. She is honest to herself in the book and the movies. We all know that she has to grow up at some point and Peter refuses to do this. Wendy will have to accept the virtues of adulthood and return to London but now she believes in fairies. When Wendy Grew Up: An Afterthought was an epilogue to the play Peter Pan it was written by Barrie in response to questions he received about what happened to Wendy when she grew up after she said goodbye. Wendy now has a daughter named Jane and she is grown up with a family and married. When Peter Pan comes back to see his love he realizes that Wendy is not that little girl he thought she would have been. Now Peter Pan realizes the meaning of letting go and he decided to take her daughter to Neverland. Wendy trusted him and believed that her daughter would make the same choices as she did to have the experiences that would bring out her more adult side. The same thing that happened to Wendy will happen to Jane, Jane’s daughter, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This story will repeat consecutively until Peter grows and learns how to finally say goodbye. Barrie use Peter Pan in his book so children believe in fairies and can visit Neverland where everything imaginary is possible.  

 

 

 

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The Classic Character

never grow up

            While doing research for my group’s presentation on J.M. Barrie and his most well-known character Peter Pan, the question emerged whether or not this was considered a classic. Prior to this class, I was never of aware of the Little White Bird or Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and my knowledge of the boy who would never grow up was mainly secluded to what Disney mass produced as a part of the “Masterpiece Collection”. While I agree that Peter Pan is a classic, it is not the books, but rather the character that has true lasting power in the cannon of children’s literature. Barrie’s novels have the ability to apply to both the audience of the child and the adult, which is certainly no easy feat, and a result of popularity, this story has been able to grow into a category of its own, which continues to be proliferated today. However, Peter himself is the true star that endures as an archetype of the boy who never turns into a man. While Wendy, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys all serve an important part and are certainly known in their own right, it is the story of Peter that consistently prevails.

Peter Pan, the self-assured and smug boy of Neverland, has helped this story achieve notoriety because of the theme that he represents to many children and adults. In a society where we are forced to grow up and accept the realities of our day-to-day lives, Barrie questions this as he creates a character who not only refuses to grow up, but is also proud to stay a boy forever. As a result of Peter Pan, Barrie was able to capitalize and create multiple story lines as well as create a play that made this character an idol to those who wished they could step away from their own responsibilities and never stop believing in the impossible. While in all reality, Peter Pan is certainly not pure and innocent, his mischievousness goes unnoticed at times because I believe people are more focused on wishing they were more like him, living life free of accountability, and with the belief that they can do anything, including fly.

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“Hook or me this time!”

In Peter Pan and Wendy, J.M. Barrie introduces a new character: Captain James Hook. I find it interesting that Barrie would choose to place a “grown-up” in Neverland, regardless of the fact that he is a pirate—a popular source of imaginative entertainment. Hook is described as “cadaverous and blackavized” with long, dark curls and blue eyes that are “profoundly melancholy, save when he was plunging his hook into you, at which time two red spots appeared in them and lit them up horribly” (Barrie 41).  Of course, he is also known for his hook as a hand. Hook is further described as courageous and always attempting to have good form though he fears only the sight of his own blood and the crocodile that lies in wait for him. PeterPan_HookBut why is he such an important figure in the story? Hook is the perfect foil to Peter—he represents what Peter could become. They are similar in that they both have lost their mothers in some way and they both feel lonely. We know from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens that Peter waited too late to fully return to his mother before finding that the window was barred and that he had been replaced. Hook alludes to his own mother leaving on page 68 when he speaks of the Never bird. Both Peter and Hook have had unfortunate pasts involving their mothers. Hook feels lonely, especially around his crew because they are beneath and therefore can’t understand him. Peter, a sort of captain of the Lost Boys in his own right, feels lonely in that he is the only child who does not grow up. Everyone leaves him eventually, though he constantly tries to replace them. Hook doesn’t like Peter because of his cockiness. Peter doesn’t like Hook not just because he is a villain but, I believe, because he is a grown up and Peter recognizes the similarities between Hook and himself—“Hook or me this time.” Only one can exist, and of course Peter must triumph.

Hook’s obsession with good form is pivotal in the story. He attempts to maintain good form even though he is technically the villain of the story. But this obsession proves that he may not be completely bad. In this case, Hook transforms from a villain to warning in that Peter could become like Hook. When he thinks Peter is dead, he is at a loss at what to do with himself now that he has followed through with his revenge. He now would serve no real purpose if Peter was truly dead. Yet when Hook dies, Peter has his string of “mothers” and all the lost children.

Although Hook is a grown-up and Peter is forever a child, it becomes apparent that if Peter were to grow up he would mirror Hook. If Hook had been excluded from the story, Peter would meet no obstacles from a sort of authority figure. He would just become a childish young dictator who flies on the seat of his pants and has mommy issues.

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