Book Review: Peter Pan by James M. Barrie

Jean-Paul’s Review: 5/5 stars

Continuing my effort to read children’s books I somehow missed as a child, now comes “Peter Pan”.  Sadly, most children’s experience with Peter Pan is from the Disney movie.  I don’t remember much about the movie, but I do know one thing for sure:  Peter Pan was not a complete ass in it.  In the book?  Peter Pan is a complete ass.  This was both shocking and delightful.

There is a mantra that gets repeated in the book that only people who are “gay and innocent and heartless” can see Peter Pan.  In otherwords, children.  That was another big surprise about the book.  Barrie describes children as sociopaths.  It’s beautiful.  There is a line in the book that I can’t remember exactly, but it basically says that as long as there are mothers to come rescue their children, the children will take advantage of that and be complete dicks about it.

As is becoming a theme with the old children’s books that I read, “Peter Pan” is both racist and sexist.  Gender stereotypes are strictly enforced throughout.  The sole purpose of both Wendy and Tinker Bell is to be mother and/or pining female.  Wendy doesn’t take part in the fighting and the killing and adventures like the Lost Boys do, she just takes care of them.  Oh, and you read that right, the killing.  Peter and the Lost Boys do quite a bit of killing of pirates and Indians and, though it’s not explicit in the book, it is implied that the Lost Boys suffer quite a few deaths as well and Peter just refills the ranks.  The racism is mostly in the description of the Indians.  Yeah, Indians.  It’s funny how bad that sounds when I read it now.  It’s your usual stereotypical nonsense about them being savages, etc.  It should be pointed out that Tiger Lily, the daughter of a chieftan, despite pining over Peter the way every female in the book does, is the person in charge of the Indians.  I’m not sure if that was progressive of Barrie or just a recognition of the different roles that women played in Indian culture.

Another delightful thing about the book that I have not seen repeated elsewhere is the use of vocabulary.  Barrie is not against using more complex words, but when he does so he then brackets an easier synonym of the word immediately after it.  He also does this with idioms.  What a wonderful way to expand children’s vocabularies.  How has this not caught on in every children’s book known to man?  I almost want to start doing it in my blog posts just for giggles.

Once you get past how much Barrie thinks children are horrible little monster, he captures the sense of freedom and wonder that is being a child like very few people ever have.  Dare I compare him to Bill Waterson and “Calvin and Hobbes”?  Yes, yes I dare.  I would not be at all surprised if Watterson’s inspiration for Calvin was in part due to Peter Pan.

In conclusion, “Peter Pan” should be required to be read to every parent’s sociopathic gay and innocent and heartless children.  It should also be read by non-spawning adults so they can relive the wonderment that was being a child.