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All children, except one, grow up

You recognise the quote, right? It’s the first line of Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. It’s a dashing good yarn about Peter Pan (who never grows up) and the adventures he has, both in our world and in Neverland. There are mermaids! And pirates! And he can fly!

I loved the story as a child.

However, re-reading it as an adult, something else really caught my attention:
The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out

Woah, thins them out? Does anyone else think that sounds a bit sinister?

I mean, maybe he just returns them from Neverland to this world, although they’d be alone, homeless, and utterly lacking in the social or practical skills they’d need to survive. That’s pretty grim but thinning them out doesn’t sound to me like he’d just take them off the island.

Does Peter Pan kill Lost Boys who survive all the fights with the pirates or the crocodile? And, if so, would he even think that’s a bad thing? Or even think about it again?

‘Don’t you remember,’ she [Wendy] asked, amazed, ‘how you killed him and saved all our lives?’
‘I forget them after I kill them’, he [Peter Pan] replied carelessly.

Do some Lost Boys realise the danger they’re in and become pirates? Hook does try to recruit the goodies after he captures them, after all.

Now then, bullies,’ he said briskly, ‘six of you walk the plank to-night, but I have room for two cabin boys. Which of you is it to be?’ […] ‘You, boy,’ he said, addressing John, ‘you look as if you had a little pluck in you. Didst never want to be a pirate, my hearty?’

I can’t help but feel that might be the best thing to do, or what J. M. Barrie would think was the best thing. After all, his descriptions of the real world once they’d grown up wasn’t exactly happy.

Michael is an engine driver. […] The bearded man who doesn’t know any story to tell his children was once John. […] Mrs Darling was now dead and forgotten.

J. M. Barrie wasn’t particularly positive about the idea of growing up – which is a total mistake, in my opinion. I can stay up as late as I want now! I can even have chocolate cake for breakfast if I like!

But then, in fairness, he didn’t have an entirely rose-tinted idea of childhood either.

‘Why can’t you fly now, mother?’
‘Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grown up, they forget the way.’
‘Why do they forget the way?’
‘Because they are no longer gay and innocent and heartless. It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly.’

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11 thoughts on “All children, except one, grow up

  1. I like your considerations here, Jo, especially the Lost Boys who might graduate and become pirates once Peter has ‘thinned’ them out. As for thinning, I’m minded of kids playing cops and robbers, or cowboys and Indians, who when someone shouts bang-bang you’re dead! play possum for a while and then quietly get up and join back in. At least, that’s a generous way of interpreting ‘thinning’…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ooh, you’re clearly a nicer person than I am. So Peter just pretends to kill them then they get up a bit later and find they’re magically young enough to stay? That’d be nice, except all children, except one, grow up…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoy your posts here, Jo. I used to teach this novel as part of an undergraduate module on children’s fiction and it’s really fascinating to see how students’ understanding expands and changes on careful re-reading as an adult. Do you know J M Barrie’s The Little White Bird? Decidedly odd.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You inspired me and I’ve started reading it! I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve finished it but so far, I’d certainly agree that it’s odd.

      What aspects of Peter Pan did you bring out when you were teaching it? In what way did you see students’ understanding of it change? Did they find the same things sinister as I do?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really enjoyed parts of the Little White Bird, despite its strangeness, and hope you’re enjoying it too.
        It’s a few years since I’ve taught, but yes, mostly the students (first year undergraduates) were struck by the casual violence in Peter and Wendy, as well as the narrator’s disarming comments about mothers, and also by how much sadness there is in the novel – the way Peter is so excluded/isolated/lonely. One of them suggested that Peter was a dead child, frozen in time and forever the same age – and of course this is what happened to Barrie’s own brother, who died as a teenager.
        I think most of the students were expecting an easy-read children’s book (and many of them hadn’t read this as children but were familiar with the various film versions and the cultural image of the child who never grows up) but agreed that this isn’t really a novel for children, since the narrator often speaks directly to an assumed adult reader. My feeling is that ‘children’s books’ are always adult books – written, marketed, and bought by adults, perhaps addressed to the child the adult author once was.
        It’s certainly a rich and fascinating text. But then, aren’t they all!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. When I was a little kid one of my friends showed me a picture book of Peter Pan that appeared to be a dead kid with a pitchfork stuck in them. I had never thought about kids dying before so it freaked me out pretty good and I never watched/read/did anything with Peter Pan. Maybe that was the thinning out in progress.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 💜 Funny Really EveryOne; all these Groan Ups Complaining about KiDults while ignoring what is Really Important to Them EveryBody

    …💛💚💙…

    Liked by 2 people

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