Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 587
On a serene Friday night in suburban London, Peter Pan disrupts the Darling household by flying into the nursery window to listen to bedtime stories. Soon Wendy and her brothers take wing, following Peter to Neverland, where time stands still.
Cocky Peter Pan captains his new guests and his crew of six lost boys through the dangers of his island domain--wild beasts, mermaids, Indians, pirates. Wendy readily assumes the role of surrogate mother, in charge of storytelling, darning, and maintaining order. Harrowing adventures such as being trapped on Marooner’s Rock, rescuing Princess Tiger Lily, and narrowly escaping the snares of villainous pirate leader, Captain Hook, spice the flow of childhood fun.
On the Night of Nights, pirates discover the children’s underground house; a pitched battle occurs, and all but Peter are captured, trussed, and scheduled to walk the plank on Captain Hook’s ship. Through a clever ruse, Peter is able to sneak aboard and demoralize Hook’s crew. At last, Peter goes sword to sword with the infamous Hook. The Captain meets his fate, not on Peter’s sword, but in the jaws of the ticking crocodile, which has pursued him as tirelessly as time itself.
Peter, Wendy, and all the boys return to the security of the Darling nursery, where school, jobs, and adulthood inevitably ensue. Peter, however, refuses adoption and returns to Neverland because he wants always to remain a boy and have fun. To Wendy’s daughter, to her daughter’s daughter, generation after generation, Peter Pan reappears ever cocky, ever a boy, to touch each child with the fairy dust which will spark her life with magic.
PETER PAN is best known as a rollicking bedtime story, but beneath its surface gaiety and innocence lie our fears of sex and death, our desires for dependence and independence, and our aversions and attractions to authority. This book remains a classic exploration of the tensions between staying a child forever and growing irrevocably into maturity, a parable of the fierce battles and fragile interdependence of the child and the parent within each of us.
Birkin, Andrew. J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Love Story That Gave Birth to Peter Pan. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1979. Collective biography of Barrie and the Davies family, told primarily through documentary evidence. Explores in considerable detail the significance of Barrie’s love for the boys and their mother for the writing of Peter Pan.
Frey, Charles H., and John W. Griffith. The Literary Heritage of Childhood. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987. Treats play as a fantasy that, against tradition, emphasizes its own distance from reality. Focuses on Neverland as a psychic map, simultaneously revealing unconscious desires (specifically, mother fixation) and attempting to deny those desires by shutting them out of the fantasy world.
Geduld, Harry M. Sir James Barrie. Boston: Twayne, 1971. Clear account of the development of the Peter Pan story from Peter’s first appearance. Freudian interpretation of womb imagery and of Mr. Darling and Wendy.
Hanson, Bruce K. The Peter Pan Chronicles: The Nearly One Hundred Year History of “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.” Secacaus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group, 1993. Performance history of the play, with detailed discussions of the most famous productions. Organized around the performer playing Peter in various productions.
Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan: Or, The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. Heavily theoretical analysis questions how the play constructs a child audience for the benefit of adult illusions about childhood.