J. M. Barrie published “Peter Pan” in 1904, at the age of 44. Barrie considered the title character to be a mixture of the five sons of Llewelyn Davies, a close friend of Barrie’s. These boys, who Barrie took custody of after their mother’s untimely death in 1910, were in a way responsible for Barrie’s fame, for they were the inspiration for the work that received rave reviews in its own time and even today, over a hundred years later, still stirs the hearts and minds of those who encounter it and its whimsical characters. Some of the main themes of Barrie’s classic “Peter Pan”-imagination, young childhood, the mother-child relationship, and growing up- can be explored through the examination of the title character and his antagonist, Jas. Hook.
Imagination rules Neverland. Peter is in command of the Lost Boys because he is the least grown up. When he pretends-even when he pretends there is food to eat when there is no food to eat- the others can do nothing but pretend along. This is the essence of the affect a child has on older people- if a child offers you a piece of cake, regardless of what is in his hand, you will take it as a piece of cake and you will act like you are eating it like it is a piece of cake. In a sense, the child is in charge because his imagination is obeyed by all whom he introduces it to.
Peter personifies the essence of young childhood affection, childlike love. He is intensely affectionate and unvaryingly forgetful of others, yet impossible not to love. In the presence of Pan, just as in the presence of a little child, individuals are enraptured by their energy, loveliness, innocence and sincerity. We are fully aware that the child by whom we are enchanted is selfish, conceited, ignorant, and likely to forget about anyone other than himself, but we nevertheless adore them. This is the essence of the childlikeness that Peter Pan embodies.
Peter’s feeling towards motherhood embodies the psyche of children. He deifies motherhood while simultaneously reviling the idea of having such an authority figure in his life. Whenever the Lost Boys talk of their mothers, Peter always asserts that his mother was better in every possible way. He brings Wendy to Neverland for the express purpose of having her as his mother, but when she is to leave Neverland with the Lost Boys, he affects not to care at all whether she stays or goes. Peter is enraptured by the idea of a mother- a beautiful, angelic, loving being who will lavish her undying love upon him- but shrinks back at the thought of ruled over by anyone, told to go to school and grow up and do manly things. He adores ‘the mother’ because he is a child, but reviles ‘the mother’ because he wants to always stay a child.
Hook is both foil and antagonist to Peter Pan. He embodies everything ‘grown up’. He is ruthless, eloquent, commanding, and values ‘good form’ above everything else. He characterizes the only other possibility to adoring a child like Peter Pan- hating him. Hook hates Peter, eventually realizing that it is his imperturbable cockiness that engenders so much hate in him for the boy. While Peter values his freedom from anything that could hold him captive in any way above all else, Hook desires above all else to have control of everything. This quintessentially childlike desire and this thoroughly grown-up desire have been at war since the beginning of time, just as Pan and Hook are at war.
“Peter Pan” has stood the test of time because it tells the universal tale of childhood with whimsy, spirit, sauciness, and above all else, accuracy. Any person reading Barrie’s classic can immediately relate to Barrie’s description of childhood and the child’s mind and attitude. Peter Pan is every child ever, and no child at all. Peter Pan is imagination and make-believe. Peter Pan is reality.