Recognize the dude to the right? Thought so. When people think of Peter Pan, most of ’em probably picture this guy. And why the hell not? I grew up with this version of Peter Pan, and since it was released in 1953 I think a lot of people did too. Disney’s Pan has been around forever and he’s a perfectly accurate representation, much more accurate than say Hercules or The Little Mermaid. He’s cocky and kinda arrogant, but it’s okay because he’s Peter Pan! He is the fun-loving, immortal child who doesn’t want to grow up.
And then…this guy appeared.
For those of you not in the know, this is Peter Pan from Once Upon A Time, who showed up quite recently as the series’ brand new villain. Everyone went a bit crazy at the news; “ooooh I love/hate how they switch things up on this show – they’ve made Peter Pan a villain. That’s awesome/terrible“.
Is it though? If you actually sit and think about it, can you see why Peter Pan can so easily be interpreted as evil?
Let’s say, hypothetically, you’ve never read the book; you’ve only seen one of the Disney incarnations. Even though Disney removed a shit-ton of disturbing source material you can still see the underlying unsettling-ness of Peter’s character, and no I’m not just talking about his shameless abduction tendencies. What does Peter Pan do when he’s not flying around stealing children straight out of 20th century London? He and his Lost Boys kill pirates. Peter cut off Captain Hook’s hand and fed it to a crocodile. The Lost Boys regularly kidnap the local settlement of Red Skins as a game. It’s not all building tree houses and “following the leader”, they enjoy murder. It is a completely unquestioned part of their lives.
Things get even more intense in the novel, as Peter is seen to be even more blasé about full-on murder. Not only does he kill pirates for sport, but he also thins out his Lost Boys when there are too many of them or they get too old. Leaving aside the whole “you’re-not-supposed-to-age-in-Neverland” plothole, what the actual fuck? Does anyone else call evil dictator?
“Pirates!” he cried. The others came closer to him. A strange smile was playing about his face, and Wendy saw it and shuddered.
I’m just getting warmed up, everything is about to get so much more complicated.
What we have to remember is that Peter Pan is the eternal child; his body isn’t the only part of him that doesn’t age, his brain doesn’t mature either. He is a gang leader flying about on a dangerous, magical island…and he has the brain of a child.
Let’s break down what that means, shall we? Peter Pan is in a situation where he is left to his own devices with no parental guidance whatsoever. He apparently ran/flew away from his family when he was just a baby, meaning that he never learned right from wrong or ever understood that his actions have consequences. So when put up against pirates with less than honorable intentions, he doesn’t think twice about killing them.
“There’s a pirate asleep in the pampas just beneath us,” Peter told him, “If you like, we’ll go down and kill him.”
Self-defense? Maybe that’s how it started. But by the time the reader comes into his adventures it is more than that. It’s a game. Peter Pan wants to be a child forever and just have fun. Fun includes killing.
Peter engages in a multitude of dick moves all because his brain hasn’t fully matured. His memory sucks: he teaches kids to fly but then forgets to teach them to stop meaning that they just fly on for all eternity, a fate which would have befallen Wendy, John and Michael upon their flight to Neverland if Wendy hadn’t kept reminding Peter Pan of their presence. Even at the end when Peter has defeated Captain Hook he completely forgets he had ever existed.
Peter’s memorable cockiness takes a devilish turn in the book and is actually more like complete conceit. Kids don’t realize the world doesn’t revolve around them until they reach a certain age and Peter definitely lives up to this. He is constantly proclaiming his awesome and his Lost Boys are obligated to cheer at his arrival and generally resign themselves to the fact that they are utterly inferior.
“Last come the Twins, who cannot be described because we should be sure to be describing the wrong one. Peter never quite knew what twins were, and his band were not allowed to know anything he did not know, so these two were always vague about themselves and did their best to give satisfaction by keeping close together in an apologetic sort of way.”
Even the very act of saving someone’s life is nothing but a means to an end with Peter Pan. If he doesn’t have the opportunity to show off his skills, he probably won’t do it.
“Eventually Peter would dive through the air, and catch Michael just before he could strike the sea, and it was lovely the way he did it; but he always waited until the last moment, and you felt it was his cleverness that interested him and not the saving of a human life.”
Brain of a child or not, Peter Pan is a dick. And I say that as someone who loves kids, but is no so disillusioned to deny that they can be dicks at times.
So what on earth was J.M. Barrie attempting to tell us when he wrote this? Peter Pan is supposed to inspire us to never grow up, but Peter’s attitude is hardly glorifying the notion! Maybe Barrie really wanted to encourage kids to grow up, telling them that adulthood is a terrifying but necessary part of life, lest you end up a dickhead like Peter Pan. And also like Tinkerbell, the bitchy fairy who is too small to process multiple emotions at once. It’s said that she represents the seven deadly sins and what happens if you let your emotions get the best of you, much like children are prone to do. This is why Tinkerbell tried to kill Wendy: all she felt in her entire being at that moment was envy. That’s why Tinkerbell was at an actual orgy on the night she rescued Peter: lust, my friends; tiny, dirty, fairy lust.
Let’s not forget that the book’s villain is terrified of growing old and dying, which is why the sound of a ticking clock follows him around in the belly of a crocodile. Yet our hero Peter Pan is not scared of death. Sure, whether he fully understands the implications is debatable, but he’s famous for proudly asserting, “to die would be an awfully big adventure“.
I think a lot of people may have missed Barrie’s full intentions with this side of Peter Pan; I do believe Barrie was trying to tell kids that growing up, in essence, is a good thing. But the pivotal message, the one we have all, ironically, grown up with, does remain: we don’t all want to grow up, but that’s not all bad. Peter Pan represents the good and the bad side of not growing up because there’s a difference between embracing the “refusing-to-mature-and-shirking-all-responsibility” side of not growing up, and chosing to keep that childhood innocence, bravery and imagination in our adult lives. It’s about living to find a balance between the childish brat Peter Pan and the age-fearing maniac Hook, running from death while chasing his arch-nemesis who represents the youth he has lost.
And for those who skipped to the end of this mahoosive post, here’s the conclusion: you do need to grow up, mature, accept responsibility, age and die. It sucks, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it if you let your inner child come out and play every so often.
Which is kind of the message we knew already, just analyzed a little bit more. For no specific reason.
This has been a post by tesscatiful.