Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Thoughts on Peter Pan

My thesis is currently constantly in the back of my mind, creating an odd connection of children's literature, feminism, and sexuality to everything. I reread Peter Pan through these lenses, and am exploring a couple different sides. This is rambling, mildly incoherent, and will probably be done with several other books as well.

The Crocodile is referred to by gender once in the book. She is female. The Crocodile is forever after discussed sans gendered pronouns, inexplicably. The greatest threat to the greatest pirate is a woman who marks time. In context of the main book I'm looking at (Alan Moore's Lost Girls), this in itself is fascinating. In Lost Girls, Wendy tells the story of James Hook, a pedophile with an arthritically curled hand. (On a side note, James Barrie's hand was curled by a sort of paralysis brought on by writing, and in Lost Girls, he wouldn't be the first author of a children's novel to double as the antagonist.) She overpowers him by basically pointing out that she is too old for him to have any interest in her. The subsequent "Splash" page is of him being eaten by the Crocodile. Such wit, this book.

With the exception of Tinker Bell and the Crocodile, all female characters are or can be read as mothers in some sense. Wendy is mother to the lost boys, her mother eventually becomes one as well. Jane, Wendy's eventual daughter, and Margaret, Wendy's granddaughter, are expected quite literally from birth to play mother to Peter. The Neverbird mothers Peter to the extent of putting her own eggs in danger (and finds his idea of using a hat as preferably to her nest). Tiger Lily, who brings up a glorious amount of colonialization issues, mothers her tribe, although she is the only girl/woman with whom that term is not explicitly used. While most of these characters do not exist in Lost Girls, or exist in a different form--Wendy puts on clothes to "become" Tiger Lily, thus reducing a character to a fetish to be put on--those women portrayed have almost every sexual act reduced to "mothering," including Annabel (Tinker Bell).

Tinker Bell sacrifices herself for Peter, if not mothers him. She is also a caricature of how women were portrayed in much literature--she can either hate with her entire being (and she only hates Wendy/women) or she can love with her entire being (and she only loves Peter/men). I know there's a lot of writing on fighting between women.

One of the things that I was fascinated with the first time I read Peter Pan was the purpose of forgetting in Neverland and outside of it. Neverland is imagination, and each person has some bearing on what is in Neverland based on their imagination, but there is a strength in believing in the imagination that is more available to Peter than any other character--see the make believe dinners that it seems only he can gain sustenance from, and the reviving of Tinker Bell after she is poisoned. Wendy is able to keep imagining and believing in Neverland, even if she cannot go back to it, as an adult, although even she is not sure if it ever existed. Both within Neverland and without, she is the keeper of memory. She tells the lost boys and her brothers about their parents when they start to forget, and her daughter of Neverland when every other young character has grown up, gotten jobs, and forgotten. In Lost Girls, she is telling her story to two other women--I haven't decided yet what, if any, role that plays in her characterization. It matters that she is a storyteller though.

What allows her to change is her strength of memory, while what allows Peter to remain the same is his strength of forgetting. From the beginning, he is the severest form of ADD, forgetting Wendy and the boys as he is flying with them towards Neverland. It is this forgetfulness, in a particularly Romantic style, which allows him to never experience, and therefore never grow up. It is simultaneously the Romantic dream and fear embodied in a boy.

I've often thought Hook was a better interpretation of Peter Pan than most film versions that attempt to stay "true" to the story, in part for the use of forgetting.

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