Top 100 Children’s Novels #86: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
When I finally read the actual Barrie book as an adult, I was mad — truly upset — that I had ever been exposed to another version prior. The book is brilliant – I was in love. – Aaron Zenz
Ah! It makes the list! It didn’t last time, you see, so I wasn’t certain whether or not it would this time around. Peter can be a mighty divisive book. Some folks adore it and see it as a brilliant piece of work. Others are deeply disturbed by portions of it, or conflate its creation with its creator (two words: tampered will). Whatever the case, you cannot deny that it is a cultural touchstone. It has been reinterpreted over and over and over again. Each generation gets the version of Peter Pan that they deserve.
The plot as taken from Anita Silvey is, “One night Wendy, John, and Michael Darling leave home and soar into the sky with Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up. They land on an enchanted island, Neverland, filled with fairies, mermaids, and pirates. All narrowly escape having to walk the plank; together they defeat Peter’s archenemy, the villainous Captain Hook.”
Not many remember that Peter’s first appearance in print wasn’t this book but rather in the 1902 mighty odd (my opinion) The Little White Bird. Then he was a stage character in the 1904 production of Peter and Wendy. And then he finally made it into his own book in 1911.
The Indians in the book have always set folks up with a bit of a conundrum. Now this fall we’ll be seeing a young adult book coming out with Harper Collins called Tiger Lily. Three guesses as to what it’s about, and the first two don’t count.
I knew I could count on at least one Peter Pan entry in Anita Silvey’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned In a Children’s Book and sure as shooting there one was. Gail Carson Levine highlights all the things about the book that touched her, helped her and remained with her over time. “After reading Peter Pan again and again and again, I was still mostly an obedient kid, but sometimes not. Sometimes I joined the league of heartless, selfish children. It was beneficial to me, if not for my parents . . . The book is subtle and wry. I had to become subtle myself to get it.”
There have been lots of different types of Peter Pan sequels and prequels. The approved ones are approved by the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, the location that continues to receive the funds from the play and the book as per J.M. Barrie’s will. Geraldine McCaughrean’s Peter Pan in Scarlet was the last approved version I recall, though there may well have been others.
- I think that it is fair to say that the number one Peter Pan fan I know, the man who defends it, loves it, talks it up, and writes about it, is the middle grade author Jonathan Auxier. He once dedicated his blog to Pan for a solid week. Check out those posts for all the background, inside, outside, and thorough information on all things Pan.
There are one or two cover images of the book out there. This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
There was a staged production here in town at the New Victory that used puppets and a HUGELY talented leading lady who did all the voices. Check this out:
Here next are highlights from Peter and the Starcatcher, the staged production of the Peter Pan prequel penned by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson:
You know, I mentioned this relatively recent film (2003) to a group of children’s literature folks yesterday and none of them remembered it. Sad because it really is my favorite Pan. Either that or I just like watching Jason Isaacs shirtless. Hm. Jonathan Auxier has understandable problems with it (he’s absolutely right when he says that Peter is way too old) but I think a lot of liking it or not comes down to your appreciation of the source material.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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