Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Review: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

1996 children's classics book cover of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
Peter Pan is the first book this year that completely embodies the spirit of The Year of Reading Whatever the Hell I Want. I've had the 1996 set of children's classics as long as I can remember, and therefore this book (and The Wizard of Oz, The Water Babies, etc) has sat on my shelf since pretty much forever. Only, when Ellie mentioned that she was reading it, I couldn't remember ever having actually picked it up myself. I mean, I'm sure I must have but I had zero recollection. So, in the spirit of reading whatever the hell I want, I thought 'eh, I'll read it now!' And I did.

Plot summary: One night when Mr and Mrs Darling were out, Peter Pan flew down to their house. In no time at all he had taught their children, Wendy, John and Michael, to fly, and they were off to Neverland on the most exciting adventure of their lives. In Neverland, where the lost boys never grew up, they met mermaids and pirates - including the terrible Captain Hook, whose hand had been eaten by a crocodile.

I'm so happy I read (or reread, who knows?) this book - it's completely different from what I was expecting. It's surprisingly well-written for a 1912 children's book in a sort of chatty, snarky tone that made me snort at times. Whilst the plot is obviously aimed at a younger generation, I never once felt that I was reading something too young for me as I was busy amusing myself with the writing. 

Or at least, I was when I didn't try and over-think it. I was talking about this with Ellie, and we couldn't quite work out whether the tone was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, or whether Mr Barrie was actually quite serious about his comments regarding women and the like. I'm leaning towards intentional humour as it's just a little too over the top if he meant every word.

The bed was tilted against the wall by day, and let down at 6:30, when it filled nearly half the room; and all the boys except Michael slept in it, lying like sardines in a tin. There was a strict rule against turning round until one gave the signal, when all turned at once. Michael should have used it also, but Wendy would have a baby, and he was the littlest, and you know what women are, and the short and the long of it is that he was hung up in a basket.
Wendy's play-acting as a mother was pretty much my favourite thing about the whole novel and I really hope it's satirical. She's meant to be about twelve years old, but runs about doing chores and to her babies. Her smugness is genuinely hysterical.

When she sat down to a basketful of their stockings, every heel with a hole in it, she would fling up her arms and exclaim, "Oh dear, I am sure I sometimes think spinsters are to be envied."

Her face beamed whenever she exclaimed this. 
I love her. Well, much more than I like Peter himself, anyway, who is much more of an arse than he appears to be in the Disney film. Is it okay to not like Peter Pan? He's rude, verging on cruel, to the other boys and Wendy sometimes, and there's a passage about how the whole island sort of relaxes and breathes a sigh of relief when he's not there, but tenses up again whenever he returns. Disney made him much more loveable.

The plot is very similar to the Disney movie (or should I say that the plot of the Disney is very similar to this!) as it doesn't appear that they changed much. The mermaids, the Indians, the crocodile... it's all here, if slightly more brutal. Still, it was a classic adventure book aimed at boys, what can you expect? Captain Hook dismembers one of his crew with his own hook and references are made to tripping over the bodies of the people Peter Pan has quite casually murdered. Nice. 

I actually do recommend this book. It's much engrossing than I expected, with a writing style that's just perfect, regardless of intent. I'm tempted to wander off and watch the film now, but I honestly don't think it's anywhere near as good as the book. 

 I'll link to Ellie's review here, if she posts one. Feel free to twiddle your thumbs in the meantime.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked the movie. The newer one's a bit more sanitised though. I did like that line about how you never knew if Peter had had an adventure while he was away until you went outside and found the body. Just casually dropped right in there amongst the chatter about domestic bliss and darning things. The dude's cocky and dangerous but so CHARISMATIC. Disney got that part right I think. :)


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