LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Classic Character

on March 28, 2013 1:19pm

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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One response to “The Classic Character

  1. cwood520 says:

    I whole-heartedly agree here with Nicole’s assertion that it is the character and essence of Peter Pan that has truly become J.M. Barrie’s legacy and caused his works to grow into classics. Peter Pan, as a character, is, in my opinion, a celebration of youth and the sweetly devilish tendencies that come along with it. I love the quote she pictured here of Peter entreating Wendy to come with him and live in his world where, “…you’ll never have to worry about grown up things again.” When we discussed in class about the transition of literature into the Edwardian era where luxury, fun, and whimsy were admired and the previous strict, moralistic children’s literature writing was becoming that of a bygone era, no character we have read about so far seemed to resonate within me so fittingly of this description than that of Peter Pan. I think Nicole’s thought is right when she observed that people want to be more like Peter and that this public reaction to the boy of Barrie’s imagination is what has kept him alive in our popular culture for so long. Just as the kiss at the corner of Mrs. Darling’s mouth is wanted by every child but remains unattainable; Peter Pan and what he represents is wanted by every reader of Barrie’s Peter stories, but will never be reached. It is too hard for us, as much as we’d like to, to, “…forget them all” and live in a world of, as Barrie once described it, faith, trust and pixie dust but the child in us will always want to and when we read Barrie’s books, even for a short time, we do get to live in that world. And possibly that is why readers can so profoundly identify with this mischievous little boy, because he pulls on the child in all of our hearts to join him in a magical world where even dying is “an awfully big adventure”.

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