LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Peter Pan: Appropriate for Children Today?

on March 28, 2013 2:42pm

Peter Pan Wendy 03

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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3 responses to “Peter Pan: Appropriate for Children Today?

  1. mpak504 says:

    BROACHLIT, you made some interesting points in your blog. First, I’d like to say that I agree with you that J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan and Wendy” is typically considered a children’s novel, even though, lately, the young adult audience has been enjoying it as well. I also agree with you that the novel has some dark and violent undertones that make us question whether or not “Peter Pan and Wendy” should be appropriate for children. Some examples of these dark and violent images are, like the one you mentioned, the Mermaids in the lagoon and their heartless drowning at Marooner’s Rock, the Lost Boys getting into bloody wars with the Pirates, Indians, and the Pirates warring with Indians, characters at risk of getting eaten by a crocodile, Tinkerbell’s attempt to kill Wendy, and the intense battle to the death between Peter and Captain Hook in the end of the novel. However, I question your assigning of age ranges to the text. I can’t say I agree with you that children from ages from five to nine should watch the interactive show and older children who are less sheltered would be able to handle the original version. Assigning an age range will cut the text’s audience significantly, allowing only a small audience to enjoy the whimsical classic of Peter Pan. Also, levels of maturity differ with every individual; every child is different and each one will react differently to the novel, so it is unfair to allow only older children who are “less sheltered” to read it.

    I agree that Captain Hook is portrayed as a notorious villain. He has an iron hook for a hand and he obsesses over killing a mere child, Peter. He had blue eyes that turned red when he “plunged” his hook in you (Barrie 115). The language Barrie uses and the description of Hook clearly demonstrates the violent imagery that is consistent throughout the novel. I can see why instances and characters, such as Captain Hook, may be too much for children. However, maybe you can also consider the character of Peter Pan as problematic as well. He is a childish boy who does not want to grow up, go to school, become a man, and go to work. This is a boy who refuses responsibilities and just wants to play all day. He is also rather annoying at times with his short term memory. He is cocky and careless, and even evil at times: he found it funny that Wendy, John, and Michael would drop like rocks when they fell asleep while flying. He would make it a game and catch them just before they hit the sea, which is obviously very frightening. Peter Pan is a major character who appeals to all the little boys who read about him: he is adventurous, brave, and, like the audience, just a child who wants to have fun. However, do parents want their children identifying with Peter? Perhaps a close reading of Peter Pan may also drive parents away from Barrie’s “Peter Pan and Wendy.”

    All in all, “Peter Pan and Wendy” is a classic and children and adults everywhere enjoy it, regardless of the undertones of violence and dark images and the problematic characters. It is fantasical, whimsical, and an escape into a dream world, which is why I find it problematic to restrict the text to only a small audience.

  2. Aaron Pirkkala says:

    Hi guys, I find your points to be quite interesting, especially those regarding the violence and “dark undertones” common throughout “Peter Pan and Wendy.” I agree that many instances in the story may be a bit dark or evil; for example, when Tinkerbell attempts to kill Wendy or when Captain Hook’s darkness is portrayed through several bloody illustrations. Although a part of me agrees with you guys that this may be unfit for children, another part of me reconciles with Barrie’s true intentions. Barrie intended for death, violence, and gore in his story to capture realistic child-play; to portray the true essence of pretend. As we were told, many of the scenes in Neverland were once reenacted by Barrie and the Davie Boys; the boys are even legit characters in the story.

    Now think about it: you’re little, you’re playing out a sword fight with a friend, aiming for the heart, or the shoulder, or the leg, then shouting out the ingeniousness of your shots — a child would even be saying,

    “Die pirate, die!”

    Although just a game of pretend, the act (for example, a sword fight) is an intention to kill or harm the opponent; to cause make-belief harm — a make-belief shoulder injury or the make-belief cutting off of a hand (like the case of Captain Hook). A child in real-life is aware that being struck by a sword can end in death. A child knows that the opponent’s arm or a hand can, in all actuality, be cut off. That’s the beauty behind make-believing; you are aware (a child is aware) of the reality of the situation that could result, which is inevitably the foundation of playing a game such as a sword fight. Where’s the danger in make-belief if, in similar realistic situation, no one could get hurt or die? In “Peter Pan and Wendy,” Barrie captures the essence of this realistic foundation to children’s play. He puts things at stake (such as the possibility of death, injury, being eaten, etc.), which is exactly what children are aware of and know about when participating in these “make-believe activities based off of a similar, realistic scenario (such as sword fighting, battling pirates, etc.).

    Though, I’m still not sure what’s the deal with a fairy killing a girl over jealousy, but perhaps that’s just Barrie’s perspective on a way that little girls might set up the foundation of a particular form of (female) child-play.

    As for the poisoned medicine, children generally find medicine vile and perhaps already think (or suspect) that medicine can kill them.

    The point is, if children are already aware of the realistic nature of their child-play (or generally known consequences), then their reading of such “dark” moments in “Peter Pan and Wendy” should be no surprise, thus this “darkness” should not infer the story as being unfit for them to read. Essentially, games of pretend or make believe are intended to stray from the reality of the situation at hand. A game of “not believed,” or rather “make-real” would very well be the real deal (the basis of the thing worth pretending). Children already know that a sword to the chest can end in death. Why else would they pretend to inflict wounds and injury when they already know the true possible results? What keeps them from fatally stabbing each other? Known knowledge!

    Therefore, Barrie is includes these “dark undertones” as a basis for a true, real, and legitimate child-play experience!

  3. cpaik1 says:

    I believe you guys have made very interesting points regarding whether or not this novel is appropriate for children today and I agree with many of them.

    My view on Peter Pan is that the style of writing that J.M. Barrie utilized for his works on Peter Pan was characteristic of the Edwardian era, which depicted children as devilish fiends and in their raw nature. This is evident in Peter and Wendy when Michael, the youngest and most innocent of the group, describes his father as being smaller than the pirate he killed. The Lost Boys are often killing pirates and fighting violently. As mentioned before, Tinkerbell attempted to murder Wendy using the Lost Boys, which is another dark part of the story. A final example is the description of how Peter continually returns to Wendy’s lineage to take away the next young girl to Neverland, just to forget her again in the future.

    These seemingly disturbing and maybe even macabre elements of Peter Pan were definitely applicable during the Edwardian era, and one may argue that we shouldn’t give our young children stories of such violence today. However, the entertainment we give to our children today and the mass media that bombards everyone on a daily basis is not far from the violence and dark themes in Barrie’s story. Cartoons and shows directed to children are not as innocent as they may appear. They are filled with violence, bad influences such as drugs and alcohol abuse, and other disturbing themes. Our society condones these types of entertaining materials for children, but strictly cracks down on children’s novels or young adult novels that contain any kind of controversial topics. For example, when the first of the Harry Potter series became popular, my high school library immediately blacklisted this book because of the sorcery and magical themes that made up the plot. While these books were being banned and flamed by parents and librarians alike, no one said a word about the television shows and movies that included even more violent themes.

    I think that Peter and Wendy is definitely a children’s book and is definitely more appropriate than many of the other mass media available to children today. It has the clear characteristics of children’s literature, and has captivated that hearts of many adults and children alike. The story of Peter Pan is entrancing, and children would definitely be thrilled to hear about fairies, mermaids, and pirates at bedtime. I would recommend my children to read it as well.

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