I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with Peter Pan as a novel. I first read it in elementary school and found it magical, in fact it was one of my favorite books. I read it for the second time the week that I turned 18 and became an adult, at least in the eyes of the law. I still loved it but took a different lesson from the ending. (Spoiler alert for the next sentence or two.) Wendy, John, and Michael all go back to London from Neverland, bringing the Lost Boys with them, so that all the main child characters eventually grow up, but Peter himself remains forever a boy on the island. Instead of just a light fun harmless story as I found it in elementary school, I now saw the lesson as “Become an adult, but keep a little bit of childlike joy and wonder within yourself.”
The third time I read it was in 2014, shortly after the NBC live musical version aired. I was now fully an adult — a young adult maybe, but still an adult, no question about it. I came to dislike what I now perceived as the lesson, namely “Childhood is good, therefore adulthood is bad.” I agree that childhood is good, but that doesn’t mean the opposite of childhood is therefore bad. I had become an adult and loved many aspects of it — no more curfew, for one thing! I found the film Boyhood, released that same year, to be a much better and more meaningful fictional encapsulation of from the transition from childhood to adulthood.
But there’s still no denying that J.M. Barrie remains one of the few writers from the early 1900s who is still regularly read, thanks largely to Peter Pan. World War I hit the man extremely hard. Already shy and a little odd to begin with — as can be seen through Johnny Depp’s brilliant Oscar-nominated portrayal in the film Finding Neverland — Barrie’s godson George Llewelyn Davies was killed in action in 1915. George was one of the main inspirations for the Lost Boys characters, and his first name was used as the name of Wendy’s father in Barrie’s book and play.
Barrie, Saddened by the War, Writes Little Now: Famous Author of ‘Peter Pan’ Is More Shy and Elusive Than Ever Since the Struggle Began — Supports a Hospital in France
From November 12, 1916