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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Is the Secret Garden appropriate for children?

As a child I was never very good at reading the books my parents, or my school, wanted me to. While they plied me with classic children’s literature I would turn up my nose, happy instead to be left to my Magic Tree House books. Happy that I was reading, my parents would generally let me be but my school was sure that my classmates and I could benefit from reading ancient books that were supposedly classics and more suitable for me to read.  But how can you determine if a text is suitable for young audiences? Is it classifying a text based on its use of difficult vocabulary? Or perhaps some themes are better suited to certain ages. In my experience children will read whatever they want, and somehow books that we don’t deem “suitable” for them will always fall into their hands. Often the books we want the younger audience to read fall along the wayside, abandoned for books that children are actually interested in reading.

Ahhh childhood memories!

For instance, when I was a child I was given a copy of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was a beautiful book and my mom was pleased to tell me that it was a classic, the seemingly golden standard for children’s literature. I avoided that book like the plague. It seemed boring to me; a girl finds a garden, big whoop! After reading the book now I regret not reading it when I was younger. The Secret Garden is full of wonderful imagery, from descriptions of the English moor to the depiction of a surly young girl learning to become a better person. I found myself smiling at references to other children’s literature books I’ve read; such as the new portrayal of a sweeter, less mischievous Peter Pan through the book’s Dickon. It is full of lessons that every child should be exposed to; lessons ranging from the importance of being polite to the people around you to knowing exercising will make you healthier. This is a story of growth, love and acceptance where 3 strange, misfit children become friends and through that friendship become normal, happy and healthy kids. If I had to choose an age for which this book would be most appropriate, based on the content matter and language, I would say any child from eight to 12 would enjoy it. Getting them to read it, however, would be a whole other story.

While The Secret Garden does have many great qualities, such as the ones I mentioned above, it is still over a hundred years old and in many ways not geared to be a children’s book, at least for modern American audiences. When I finally read the book I did enjoy it but I noticed a few off putting things, not in the least a few heavily racist conversations and an overall message that Britain is the exemplary place to raise children and grow up. There is a repeating message in The Secret Garden that England is superior to all other countries and that if you want your children to be happy you should raise them there and let them run wild on the moor. As this is an older British novel it may be hard for some of the lessons from the book to impact young readers. In my opinion it is simply out of date and in some ways incompatible with the American mindset. I do think that there is merit in this book though so if you have the option to recommend this book to a child you should.

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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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Peter Pan: Appropriate for Children Today?

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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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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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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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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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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Why Peter Pan Fails To Hold Up (in America)

Peter?! I thought you were older…

When the average person thinks of Peter Pan, the story of a boy in green tights flying with a girl and her brothers to a magical locale called Neverland would probably come to mind first. This fantasy is even more apparent in American culture, where Disney granted us a very popular adaptation and other authors continue to explore the origins to or adventures after the Peter and Wendy novel. When it comes to Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, the average American probably has little idea of a story of a baby named Peter who explores the magical settings in the United Kingdom. I cannot say how well the book holds up for the rest of the world, but I know that Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens fails to resonate with modern audiences. Although one may argue that this is due to the Peter and Wendy story usurping its popularity, I believe it can actually be attributed to the novel’s narrow scope and dense prose.

Groovy huh?

The novel takes place in the United Kingdom, specifically in London and the Kensington Gardens. The everyday American citizen is probably not familiar with the geography of the UK, which is repeatedly mentioned in the novel. This brings up a number of issues, especially in regard to the fact that the novel is targeted toward children. Since most younger children are not well versed in the geography of their own state and country, it makes sense that the locations mentioned by Barrie would fly right over American children’s heads. The failure to recognize these locales would mean that children would also have difficulty understanding the significance of the locations and thus diminish their enjoyment of the work. Although Barrie is able to eloquently describe the setting and layer it with wonderful imagery, I still think the geographical barrier has persisted as an impediment to the novel’s classic status in America and its inability to appeal to modern children.

Creepy lookin’…

Although J.M. Barrie paints a very appealing picture of Kensington Gardens, his writing style could be another reason why the novel has failed to stand among other works in their universal appeal to children across the generations. His descriptions and second-person narrative are fascinating to analyze as an adult studying the novel, but as a child I could see myself becoming frustrated very early on with the text. This dense prose could be attributed to the fact that he is of Scottish origin and many American children would be unfamiliar with the colloquialisms and slang he uses throughout the novel. While many British authors employ the nuances of their English tactfully within their texts, I think Barrie fails on many levels to appeal to readers outside of Europe. In addition, the meandering sentences of descriptions could also quickly disengage a child from the story. Overall, the combination of lengthy, meandering prose and many references to foreign locations have contributed to the novel’s immense decrease in popularity in America, particularly concerning is classic status.

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Peter Pan as a Classic

I have never thought about the meaning of “classic” until this course. As I grew up, I would hear this term as when in the 1990s my mother bought Snow White when it first came out on VHS because it was a classic and when in school my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Kuwabara, recommended Harry Potter to me because she said it would become a classic. I learned to recognize and use this word without really knowing and understanding what it meant. Among friends, a phrase or an activity would be named a “classic” in jest, such as buying Doritos after school—Doritos are a classic snack food!



  Playing tag at recess would become a classic activity even though we only had been playing tag together for a few weeks. Daniel’s fat pet cat stories were classics. J.Lo’s latest song became a classic. These things were sentimental to us, and so they garnered the name “classic.”
The one trait all of these so-called “classics” shared was a sense of captivation. There was an alluring, captivating aspect to all these objects and activities. The act of eating Doritos after school became a nostalgic kind of captivation. Tag was an exhilarating type of captivation, and so on.

When deciding on what to discuss about Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, I decided to write about why it is considered a classic. It actually took a good couple of hours of wondering to try to pinpoint the reason or reasons why. I had always just known things to be classics but not necessarily why. Some books are classics because other people say they are, and some people say books are classics because of the attached sentimental feelings. Both these groups of people found something worthwhile and captivating about whatever they deem a classic, and I now know that’s what makes Peter Pan a classic.

     Peter Pan is a classic because


 of its captivating nature. The story includes magical and impossible things, but they are set in a very concrete and very real environment, which leads the reader to want to believe in the absurd and the magical because it’s more fun—more captivating. How wondrous it must be to play all night in whatever manner you choose, never know fear, and to see fairies dance! Both young and old can relate to some portion of this book. Who wants to grow up and grow old and have responsibilities truly? Peter Pan, the character, embodies the timelessness I feel most people desire, a happiness achievable only by children who do not know pain and fear. Aside from those self-identifications, the story is full of whimsy and the unreal. Fairies and birds-turned-babies, flying, wishes, and all manner of things born of the creative imagination are written down for our entertainment and enjoyment. Peter Pan is a classic because whether it’s understanding what it means to be happy or getting to read about mythical creatures, Peter Pan has something to offer to, something to captivate its readers with.

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