LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Children Do Grow Up

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Something that struck a chord with me with this weeks’ reading of A.A. Milne’s The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner, is how different a character Christopher Robin is from Peter Pan.  Also, please note that the Peter Pan that I will be referencing is the Peter from Peter and Wendy.

 

Within these novels we see two young boys who live in a world filled with fantasy and magic.  Both boys have a band of merry friends and are somewhat seen as the leaders within there groups.  They seem to be the problem solvers and decision makers when questions are asked and decisions need to be made.  Both Christopher Robin and Peter Pan enjoy going on adventures with their friends and exploring.

 

However, there are numerous differences between Christopher Robin and Peter Pan.  One contrast is education.  Peter Pan has fled to Neverland where he lives without any schooling or education, but Christopher Robin spends his mornings getting an education and even teaches his friends in the Hundred Acre Woods some letters and spelling.

 

Another difference is quite possibly the most important difference between the two boys.  Peter does not wish to grow up at all and even goes so far to refuse to do so.  Christopher Robin does not seem to wish to grow up but he also understands that this is something that must occur.  He spends the time to say goodbye to Pooh and to ask him to never forget him and his pledge to return to their enchanted place.

 

The idea of growing up can be disillusioning to children but it is a practical idea and Milne has taken the time to show how growing up is inevitable but at the same time if you maintain a desire to remain youthful you can.

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In the chapter where the Lamb is turned suddenly into an adult, the kids find themselves dealing with a Lamb that is rude, selfish, and overall lacking in good qualities. Through the whole ordeal, Lamb’s siblings are even more put off by adult Lamb than baby Lamb; except Anthea who worries about him the entire time.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Seemed like a good idea at the time to me too.

For me, the narrator’s commentary in this chapter is what most caught my attention. The narrator seems to be just as unwilling to accept Lamb as an adult as everyone else; almost every time Lamb is mentioned, the reference is followed up with a comment about how he must now be called by one of his real, adult names. For example: “The grown-up Lamb (or Hilary, as I suppose one must now call him) fixed his pump and blew up the tyre” (Nesbit 198).

The chronological development of these references gets more and more wearisome to the narrator, and as sunset approaches, the references get more and more jaded and the narrator goes so far as to comment that, “The grown-up Lamb (nameless henceforth) was gone forever” (Nesbit 205).

Forever is a very permanent word, and yet this decided permanent disappearance is how both the children and narrators view grown-up Lamb: gone forever. This in no way means that the children think that the Lamb will never grow up, it just means that he will not grow into the man they spent all day dealing with – or so they hope.

Here the children address the issue with their different methods: Cyril wants to bully it out of him, Jane thinks kindness will work, Robert wants to improve him over time, and Anthea wants to protect him from all of them (Nesbit 206-207). These varied methods beg the question though, if they are all applied – or even just one – what is to  really stop him from becoming the selfish grown-up he was in this section? The wish here seems to deal with a lesson about growing up and cherishing youth, but is there also another subtle lesson about adolescent development?

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The Classic Character

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            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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An Afterthought

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After the production of Peter Pan, J.M Barrie began receiving questions about what happens to Wendy after her encounter with Peter and Neverland. He decided to include “An Afterthought,” to satisfy the curiosity readers, and followers of the beloved characters had about what was to come for the boy who never grows up, and his female friend.

In the epilogue, Barrie brings the story full circle and explains how the passing of time means his  young companions will age, and soon forget the wonders they shared in the fantastical world of Neverland. But with this aging also brings new daughters, and therefore new generations for Peter to influence.

Many view this alternate ending as a bittersweet way to bring the story to a close. Upon Peter’s initial return to the Darling house, after many years, he is greeted by an adult Wendy putting her own daughter Jane to bed. Wendy must break the news that she has grown past the age of flying capabilities because she has “forgotten.” This is heartbreaking for Peter because he is being forced to face the reality that everyone he loves and has emotional attachments to will  advance him temporally and eventually forget his existence. This is precisely why he must start over every few years with a new child–a fresh imagination, ready to be taken away to a land only their wildest dreams could’ve conceived.

This entire sequence is commonly left out of later adaptations of the story, which seems unusual considering the initial interest in the afterthought was the reason Barrie included an epilogue to the story in the first place. Perhaps it is to spare the audience of having to accept the truth that Peter and Wendy can never be together, and if this is true, the story is being deprived a perfect connecting thread to the beginning of the story.

“If you ask your grandmother if she’s heard of Peter Pan…”

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The Character of Wendy

Wendy is the most developed character in the story of Peter Pan and Wendy andby some she is considered the central protagonist. Wendy is proud of her childhood and enjoys telling stories to her younger brothers. Just like Peter Pan, she is at the beginning of adolescence and has a fear of adulthood. Wendy fears of adulthood mainly come from the way that she sees her father acts. At the beginning of the story, Wendy focus is to avoid growing up; Peter Pan helps her to avoid growing up by taking her and her brothers to Neverland. Neverland is supposed to be a place where you can remain young forever. However, going to Neverland seems to bring out more of Wendy’s adult side. It seems that Neverland had the exact opposite effect on Wendy than it did on Peter Pan. This adult side also comes out more when the lost boy tribe asks her to be their mother; this is very interesting because I often times hear people say that motherhood brings maturity to the mother no matter the mother age. Wendy agrees to be their mother and starts performing mother-like tasks for them. These duties help Wendy to accept adulthood because she actually enjoys being a mother. After she accepts adulthood, she returns to London because she does not want to postpone growing up any more. Later in the novel, we see Wendy grow into a lovely woman and motherhood.

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The character of Wendy is so much different from that of Peter Pan, Peter Pan is a boy that just refuses to grow up no matter the situation; which is something that we actually see in today’s society. However, when Wendy is put in a situation like motherhood, she grows up; and this is one of the perfect situations in which one should grow up. Wendy character shows that individuals will not maturity or grow up until they make the decision to grow up; remember maturity does not come with age. It is Wendy who makes the decision that it is time for her to grow up, so she more than willing to do that. You can make suggestions to someone, but until they are ready to take the step for change, nothing will change.

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