Book Review: Peter Pan by J.M Barrie

Ok so technically this is a play review but as I’ve only read the play in a book and haven’t watched it then we’ll just go with that.

Now until recently I thought I knew the story of Peter Pan because I’d seen the Disney film (and I’m sure many others have as well!) But I had never really experienced the magic or the darkness of Peter Pan until reading the play. I guess I had never really considered before just how sad the character of Peter Pan is.

There are a number of theories surrounding Peter Pan and The Never Land, one of which is that Peter and the Lost Boys are all dead. Another argues that Peter is actually a fairy. Now I can’t pretend to know what Barrie’s intention really was when creating Peter, perhaps he had little intention other than to entertain children. However, for me this play is about death, loss and the inability to move on.

Peter is stuck…both emotionally and physically. This play is less about the fantasy of never growing up and more about what it actually means to grow up. Peter seems to me to be a very innocent character, unaware of the feelings of Tinkerbell and Wendy who he is only able to see as a mother, the stage directions even state that Peter is never touched throughout the play which I find especially poignant. He doesn’t seem to understand why anyone wants to grow up yet at the same time he seems to struggle with his own inability to grow up.

It is made clear that Peter will never die, not just because he will never grow old but because he is invisible. When Hook attempts to injure him he is not even able to touch him. Hook in the end admits defeat as he realises the inevitable and unfair conclusion to their rivalry. Peter will always win.

In the end I was left wondering whether this is actually a story for children. For me as a child I never had the fantasy of staying a child I always just wanted to grow up. Perhaps this is an adults fantasy of returning to childhood, a supposedly easy and carefree time (which I’m sure we will all agree isn’t the reality of childhood). What Peter shows is that this fantasy comes with a cost, that it is not the perfect dream that adults make it out to be.

I could go on for days about my theories on this play and there is a lot that I haven’t mentioned here. My main point is that reading this play as an adult has completely changed my view of Peter Pan and I don’t think I could ever watch the Disney version in the same way again.

‘To die will be an awfully big adventure’
– J.M Barrie


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