LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Peter Pan Stories: Appropriate for Children Today?

From the Disney adaptation of “Peter Pan”

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and, later, Peter and Wendy both present the well-known tales of Peter Pan, the boy protagonist and hero who never grew up.  His story is arguably one of the most famous of the ones we’ve discussed in the class thus far and has really made a large impact on our society.  These stories were huge successes not only at the time that they were published but perhaps even more so in our contemporary society through several adaptations.  However, as we are well-aware, time changes as well as ideologies and the mainstream society’s views on different things, and it calls to the forefront the question of whether or not this text is still suitable for children today.   I believe that this is a question worth further examining.

I feel that there are many points in the text that are worth questioning, such as Peter’s explicit disregard for reality, the fact that he essentially kidnaps other children from their homes to take them to another land, and the troublesome adventures that often lead the characters to danger and sometimes near-death.  In today’s society, where the protection of children is at the forefront of national media and parents are fearful of letting their children wander outside without supervision, these legal and parental guardians may not want their children learning the stories of other children who were whisked off and away via flight to Neverland, where they could battle pirates and crocodiles with the somewhat poorly influential new boy.   However, with these little concerns put to the side, I think that the bigger picture can be looked at that this is one of the most influential and entertaining stories ever written for children.

This text provides something that many others do not—the glorification of what childhood actually is.  J. M. Barrie suffered from several mental, physical, and emotional hindrances, which led him to live in a childlike state for the entirety of his life.  He wrote these stories as an outlet to provide himself a means of living vicariously through his main character in order to preserve the beauty of childhood.  I think that any reader can find this through his words and learn to love the purity and adventure that comes with childhood.  The Peter Pan stories are essentially a glorification of childhood and the craziness and entertainment that can come with allowing yourself to venture off to a newly created world in your imagination.  I don’t believe that parents should worry as much about their children trying to fly off to other worlds and should instead focus on the building of their children’s imaginations.  Childhood essentially only comes once for us, and we need to relish in it.  I think that these stories really allow us to do so.  While it is probably not suitable to live variously through the characters to the extreme that J. M. Barrie did, I do not believe that there is any harm in allowing any individual of any age in any era to read these stories and be led to their own vision of Neverland for a new and exciting adventure.

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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: the Replacement Child

J.M. Barrie and one of the Llewelyn Davies boys

When one reads any Peter Pan works by J.M. Barrie, one may note dark undertones for a tale that is depicted as lighthearted and encouraging of the free spirit. Much of Barrie’s own experiences contributed to the work and it is said this is the reason for any of his works’ peculiarities. Barrie was described as childlike, no taller than 5’4” and almost incapable of real adult relationships. This fixation on childhood may be in part due to the loss of his brother David, who died two days shy of his 14th birthday in an ice skating accident. David was his mother’s favorite child (or so we think), and Barrie spent much of his childhood dressing in David’s clothing and trying to console his mother of her loss. Barrie began to fill the shoes of what is known as a “replacement child.” In most cases, a replacement child is a child born after the death of a sibling, however, when David died, expectations for his life and future fell onto Barrie.

One can draw a few parallels between Peter Pan and David, as Peter does not grow up and David is barred from adulthood in his death. Peter & Wendy opens with the famous line, “Every child grows up, except one.” David, who died at 14, is frozen at that age in childhood. He will never be thought of as a grown man or adult, but forever as an individual untouched by the experiences of adulthood. Many people often ask why or how Peter gains the ability to fly, and one may argue that he is in fact a ghost thus having the ability to fly to “other worlds” such as Neverland. Peter Pan also buries young children in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and leads the lost souls of children in Peter & Wendy. These roles have very much to do with the dead and perhaps Peter performs these duties because he feels partial to dead children, as he is one.

Peter Pan is a mysterious figure in children’s literature that has intrigued and fascinated people always. We all experience a sense of never wanting to grow up and this has allowed Peter to remain such a prevalent character in literature, movies, and other works. Though his origins are unknown, one thing is certain: Peter and his stories are peculiar. Peter Pan works have a few minor creepy details and this may be attributed to Barrie’s childhood experiences especially given the loss of David and having to replace him in order to console his unstable mother.

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Paper Thoughts: Arthur Rackham and Children’s Book Illustration

rackham1For my final paper I am focusing, unsurprisingly, on children’s book illustration. More specifically, I am planning to write about Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), a prolific early-twentieth century British illustrator. While Rackham illustrated a vast number of books, I intend to focus on his illustrations for Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and examine how these illustrations are representative of major themes in children’s book illustration during the Golden Age. (I realize that this is still somewhat vague, most of my research so far has been limited to biographical information while I wait for a couple of books on the history of children’s book illustration to arrive.)

Rackham was commissioned to illustrate Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 1905, completing fifty full-page color illustrations for the text. His illustrations were praised by both Barrie and critics, and the book was the most popular gift-book for Christmas in 1906. Rackham’s Alice in Wonderland, published in time for Christmas in 1907 after the book’s original copyright expired, was one of the first re-illustrated versions to be released since the publication of the original with John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations. Interestingly, several other re-illustrated versions were released at the same time, but Rackham’s was the only to endure.

rackham5One specific area that interests me is the production and reception of deluxe limited editions of illustrated books during this period. Many of Rackham’s books were published in these sorts of editions and were extremely popular as Christmas gifts, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph. However, I am finding in my research that such lavish editions, while popular, also attracted criticism when it came to children’s books. For example, the illustrations for Peter Pan were printed, as was customary, on thick paper and protected by tissue fly-leaves (some of the books that we looked at on our visit to the Baldwin were printed in this manner). Critics attacked this practice, however, claiming that such fine books were more suited for “the drawing-room rather than the nursery” (Hudson 66). They argue that in creating such luxurious editions, the books were turned into art objects more easily admired by adults than enjoyed and used by children. I plan to try and locate the full original responses by critics that are cited in the books I have read, and I hope to further explore this debate and its implications for Rackham’s work and Golden Age children’s illustration.

A gallery of Rackham’s Peter Pan illustrations can be found here.
A Rackham edition of Alice in Wonderland can be viewed here.

Sources:
Hamilton, James. Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration. London: Pavilion, 1990.
Hudson, Derek. Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960.

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Peter Pan – More than Just The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow UP

In discussion of Peter Pan, both literary and casual, there is an understandable focus on the themes of youth and a reluctance to reach maturity. Indeed, with Peter himself the quintessential “boy who would not grow up”, it certainly is a message worth exploring, and worthy of its inextricability with the work. However, believe that there are other themes in J.M. Barry’s work that are at times overshadowed by this emphasis on “never growing up”. This inequity of focus has somewhat skewed the message of the books, and, without an examination of possible author intention, there is a great potential for misinterpretation.

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One theme, for example, that I believe to be under-discussed is that of loyalty. Peter has a fierce loyalty to his friends and adopted “family”, and in that way he is made to be more than simply a selfish and immature young man. While Peter is definitely both of these things, one must also consider that he has to a degree been made these things by his circumstance and lack of familial security. These deficits of course mirror Barry’s own life (with specific regard to a feeling of abandonment and neglect by his mother), and run much deeper – and are certainly causational – of a fear of growing older.

Peter Pan also captures those themes of youth as more than simply innocence, but as a curiosity and a fire for life that – according to Barry – are somewhat dimmed upon reaching maturity. Peter is not inclined to stay young in order to eschew responsibility but rather to capture for longer its excitement and wonder. These messages, far from encouraging hedonism or selfishness, merely encourage curiosity and imagination. In a retaliation to the Victorian notion of children as young adults, Barry allows them to have a childhood free of adult anxieties and hang ups.

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Close Reading of a Peter Pan Passage

“‘I think I shall go back to mother,’ he said timidly.

‘Good-bye,’ replied Solomon Caw with a queer look.

But Peter hesitated. ‘Why don’t you go?’ the old one asked politely.

‘I suppose,’ said Peter huskily, ‘I suppose I can still fly?’

You see he had lost faith.

‘Poor little half-and-half!’ said Solomon, who was not really hard-hearted, ‘you will never be able to fly again, not even on windy days. You must live here on the island always.’

‘And never even go to the Kensington Gardens?’ Peter asked tragically.

‘How could you get across?’ said Solomon. He promised very kindly, however, to teach Peter as many of the bird ways as could be learned by one of such an awkward shape.

‘Then I shan’t be exactly a human? Peter asked.

‘No.’

‘Nor exactly a bird?’

‘No.’

‘What shall I be?’

‘You will be a Betwixt-and-Between,’ Solomon said” (16-17).

This passage from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, when analyzed, is found to supply us with a general portrayal of the entire novel. We see a boy named Peter Pan who, at first, longs for his mother, then realizes he can’t ever again fly. We further get a general idea of Barrie’s style of writing — the reader is also addressed directly using the word “you.” Finally, Peter Pan also learns from the very wise bird, Solomon, that he is neither human nor bird, but rather a “Betwixt-and-between.”

Firstly, we see an unsure Peter Pan; a little baby who’s only 1 week old (which is absurd — I shall get into that shortly) and has recently flew away from his mother’s company, already regretting his departure. Indeed, in the passage above, Peter Pan is very willing to go back, if only he was able to fly. Of course, Peter Pan lost faith in his ability to fly so he is never again able to do so. This, of course, is a powerful message that shows the empowerment of self-confidence and how crucial it is to be sure of yourself if you ever wish to conquer and accomplish your aspirations — or even your flaws. This is described earlier in the text just after Peter Pan flew from out his window, “It is wonderful that he could fly without wings, but the place itched tremendously, and–and–perhaps we could all fly if we were as dead-confident-sure of our capacity to do it as was bold Peter Pan that evening” (13). How beautiful is this? To be a child reading this line, the child would be consumed by wonder, amazement, and inspiration. Because I’m grown up and have been told repeatedly by others that I can’t “fly” among other things, the inspirational impact this line has on me is minimized, but I can only imagine its limitless impact on a young, fresh mind.

peter pan flying

Throughout life, more specifically in school, a child — any child — will be faced, one time or another, by people who tell that child that he or she cannot aspire to do certain things or be a certain somebody, and eventually the child will start questioning his or her own abilities, potential, and capacity. This is another reason why the Peter Pan series is such a classic; Peter Pan may be told now, by Solomon, that he will never again fly, but inevitably Peter Pan succeeds at just that and much much more! A book is a collection of mere thin pages and ink imprints, but the worlds that are detailed will take any reader on an incredible adventure that defies all the ifs and buts we are faced with in reality; another reason why fiction writing, in particular children’s literature, is essential to our society.

From this passage, we also get a feel for Barrie’s inclusion of the reader as a character in the story. he does this with the line, “You see he had lost faith,” which tells us directly (evermore emphasizing the importance of faith) and also asserts that this story is for “you,” and that this story was written by many of “you.” As we see in chapter 1, “The Grand Tour of the Gardens,” the narrator/writer of this novel is also a character in the story, “[The Kensington Gardens] are in London, where the King lives, and I used to take David there nearly every day” (3). The use of the personal pronoun, ‘I’, declares substance to the narrator, thus the use of ‘I’ and ‘you’ reenacts a sort of story telling involving a storyteller (I) and its audience (you); a situation where a child feels comfortable and delighted to have, perhaps a parents, sharing to them a story. Barrie further captures the heart and attention of the child reader through his inclusion of David as a character in the story; though, he is the most relatable character because David is also joining in on the listening of the story — Barrie even taking it one step further by having David as an accompanying storyteller in which the story manifests from both the adult narrator’s perspective and that of a child’s (David),

“I ought to mention here that the following is our way with a story: First I tell it to him, and then he tells it to me, the understanding being that it is quite a different story; and then I retell it with his additions, and so we go on until no one could say whether it is more his story or mine” (13).

Mother and Daughter Reading Together

The intended audience being a child reader, thus the inclusion of a child’s voice in helping tell the story gives it more authenticity than most other texts of children’s literature.

Finally, as we see in the passage above, Peter Pan learns from the very wise bird, Solomon, that he is neither human nor bird, but rather a “Betwixt-and-between.” Peter Pan is seemingly incapable of declaring his identity. This absence of identity is discussed in this week’s assigned essay, “The Riddle of His Being: An Exploration of Peter Pan’s Perpetually Altering State,”

“Peter Pan changes shape and position so often that he is uncertain about his identity. Wendy is the first to ask Peter Pan what he is but he cannot answer. His responses to Wendy’s question are vague and abstract” (McGavock).

This brings me back to Peter Pan’s absurd age of only 1 week old. This also brings me to many questions such as: how is Peter Pan so intelligent at so young an age? How is he able to speak nearly perfect English so fluently? How does he know braveness but not fear? Such observations baffle me, and I am forced to categorize such as the work of fiction; not to be questioned. It is believable that because of his young age that he is unable to see himself as human when he was so recently a bird, but these matters of self-identity and self-discovering are usually associated with teens and young adults who are trying to find out who they are (it was only until recently until I discovered such myself!). Poor Peter Pan, I wish him all the best, but for a boy of 1 week old who will never grow up… I pity him; though, I envy all his faith through his adventures — and many at that.

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Peter Pan in Kensingston Gardens is Suitable For Children

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Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is a very well known text that has been successful for over a century. It is a quick, yet enjoyable read for any age group, but I believe its appeal is more skewed toward children around the age of 7 to around the age of 12. It is a text that seems in the perfect position to be read after a child has grasped the fundamentals of reading, and want to adventure out into a book of greater length and plot development. In terms of aspects of the text that make me feel Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is appropriate for children, the very premise that Peter Pan is only seven days old is a big reason. He is not mature, so it seems easy for a child to suspend his or her beliefs and go along with the story.

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Also, there is a complete absence of any sense of sexuality in this story. For example, Peter Pan meets a girl named Maimie Mannering and within a short period of getting to know her, he asks her to marry him. He skips any sense of intimacy, potentially because he lives with an idea of living eternally. He also has a complex that causes him never to have the desire to grow up, and this is a very good indicator as to why he eschews any semblance of affection with Maimie.

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The progression of the plot is very straightforward, and while the language is not the most elementary, it is still able to be interpreted from a young audience. The use of the second person throughout the text is such an effective manner of involving the audience, especially children, because it provides a sense of an invitation to go along the journey with the characters, instead of simply reading about other peoples’ adventures. The use of pictures also contributed to the text to be directed towards children, as a whole. The pictures were very excellent ways to depict the essence of what was being said in the text, in case children had misunderstood or just needed a pictorial schema of what was occurring.

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Motivations in Writing Children’s Literature

The agendas that author’s have when writing their works of fiction are very interesting.  They cover an array of motives and serve a purpose that is ultimately for the author.  The authors may have a strong moral code that they believe all others should also have and so they write stories where one can learn and see how following these morals will lead them to having the best life they can have.  Another motive could be political agendas.  Many texts are written in a time of political turmoil and some authors incorporate this into their works.  Authors also tend to put much of themselves into their stories.  The reasons can vary; perhaps it is a way to immortalize themselves or, a way for them to work through insecurities or problems in their lives.  Most likely, it is a way for the authors to write something that they know personally and feel a connection to.

images    Charles Kingsley inserts his belief in religion and duty within his tale of The Water Babies.  Kingsley was a very religious man and had a set idea about how “good” people lived.  Therefore, he chose to push these beliefs onto others by instructing children how one was meant to behave through his tale of Tom and Ellie.  Even within classic fairy tales there are lessons and morals to be gained from reading these stories.   Do not disobey your husband, marry whomever you are intended to and maybe you will fall in love with him anyway, be a good child and listen to your elders and remain sweet and pure.  These are all lessons, which can be obtained through the readings of fairy tales from all over the world.

Political agendas can be inferred within at least a few of the texts that we have read during this course.  Both Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books and Frank L.  Baum’s The Wizard of Oz have different social and political issues within them. Within Kipling’s books about Mowgli and his animal comrades we see a social hierarchy that is very reflective of British governed India.  Many historians view the Baum’s The Wizard of Oz as a political text.  They have assumed that Baum used very strategically certain characteristics and colors within the novel to represent political America.  For instance, some historian’s have stated that the Cowardly Lion could be the politician William Jennings Bryan who had the reputation of being indecisive.  Others have inferred that the Yellow Brick Road is symbolic of gold and the silver shoes are representative of currency.  images-1

Finally, I would like to visit the concept, which leaves me with the most questions, the motive of putting oneself within one’s own fictional story.  Lewis Carroll inserted himself in both of his Alice tales.  In Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland we see a tale that Lewis wrote entirely for the children he was very fond of from his own life.  Alice Liddell is the Alice whom Carroll both wrote the story and created the character around.  In his follow up, Through the Looking Glass, Carroll inserts himself into the text as The White Knight.  He gives his mannerisms and other qualities to this character.  Carroll is not the only author to do this though and we see a similar story within J.M. Barrie’s stories about Peter Pan.  Much like Carroll, Barrie was also very close to a family with young children that were not his own. Instead of the children being all girls this family was made up of five young boys whom Barrie created his tales for.  He even names his characters within his works after these boys.  Barrie also gives a part of himself to the character of Peter, and put his own dog Porthos within his earlier drafts.

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Though motives may vary it is easy to assume that these author’s felt a need to write about the beliefs, world occurrences, and things going on in their lives.  Especially interesting is that these are texts that are geared for children.  The need to impress morality, hint a political issues, and offer a personal vulnerability that children may not grasp quite fully at first but later in life when they are older and pick back up these classics that is very likely to change.

*Geer, John G.; Rochon, Thomas R. (2004). “William Jennings Bryan on the Yellow Brick Road”. The Journal of American Culture 16 (4): 59–63. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.1993.00059.x.

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Betwixt-and-Between: Peter Pan and The Water-Babies

In reading Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, I was reminded of The Water Babies. Solomon tells Peter that he is a “Betwixt-and-Between” (Barrie17) and it seems to me that in The Water-Babies, Tom is equally stuck being not-quite human.

I think the scene that really made the connection for me though, was the scene with the birds in Peter Pan; it reminded me of the Allfowlsness Island Tom encounters on his journey. On an island of birds – each having their own community and way of life – both protagonists find themselves out of place; Tom is looking to continue on his journey to regain his his humanity and Peter is stuck their after losing his ability to fly.

Thanks for rubbing it in.

Thanks for rubbing it in.

 

The islands of birds play different yet similar roles as stop-overs on the protagonists journeys of self-growth and development. For starters, both are sanctuaries from humanity. In Water Babies, the petrels tell Tom never to reveal the island’s location “lest men should go there and shoot the birds, and stuff them, and put them into stupid museums…” (Kingsley, 145). Likewise, in Peter Pan, Solomon’s island in Kensington Gardens is only reachable by air: “for the boats of humans are forbidden to land there, and there are stakes around it, standing up in the water, on each of which a bird sentinel sits by day and night” (Barrie, 16).

Seriously, who's giving me a ride?

Seriously, who’s giving me a ride?

The protagonists, stranded, must find a way off of each island. At these points of their respective stories, the protagonists’ goals are the same; both Tom and Peter are – even if not in the same ways – trying to become real humans again. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately  depending on perspective – only one of the two succeeds in this quest. While Tom regains his humanity and is better of than when he began, Peter is replaced by his family and spends his eternal youth playing in the gardens, perpetually stuck between being an animal and a man.

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