Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan

 Peter Pan 
by J.M. Barrie

My Rating:

Recommended to Stacy by: Walt Disney and Jodi Lynn Anderson
Recommended for: everyone - it's a classic must-read!
Read from August 25 to November 12, 2014 — I own a copy

I grew up, like so many, loving the Disney version of PeterPan. It was so whimsical to think that one could be swept away to some utopian wonderland whenever she wanted. But then I realized recently that I have never actually read the book! And after re-watching Hook and Finding Neverland, which I also adore, I thought to myself, I really need to read the book. But the ultimate catalyst was my desire to read Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson; if I was going to read a retelling of Peter Pan, it is only fair that I know the source material first. So I buckled down, put all of my other TBR books aside, and read this classic, surprised in the end that it was not as great as I had hoped.

Don't get me wrong, the basic plot points were all there: Wendy and her brothers; Peter and his Lost Boys; Hook, Smee, and the pirates; and Tiger Lily and her clan - all the parts I loved were still there, but the narration was irksome, to say the least. The flow of the plot was random and choppy: parts that should have been described more, like Tinkerbell's sacrifice, were cut short, and parts that were excluded from the Disney version, like the Neverbird saving Peter on the rock, were left unexplained and underdeveloped. And the mermaids were almost non-existent, and felt unnecessary. It just left so much to be desired. All the parts I had hoped to get more information about in the book version - more about the mermaids, the pirates, the Tribe, the Lost boys - were told in the barest of details, and it left me wanting.

Also, I found the narrator to be distracting and annoying. There were occasions when the narrator's voice would interject some off-topic thought or would skip ahead or aside to some other plot point when I wanted to stay in the moment of the story that the narrator felt the need to leave behind. The story could have been significantly improved if the narrator's thoughts were left out, and the narration was merely omniscient. I remember thinking the same thing when I read Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto - the narrator muddled the story line, and left me feeling frustrated. That same feeling returned when I read Peter Pan. I wanted the plot alone, no sidebars or interjections. The plot in Peter Pan is unique and exciting; the narrator's input only served to get in the way of what is a great story on its own.

There were a few things that I did enjoy about the book version:
1. I loved the violence - that sounds so ominous, but I really liked that it was in the book. Disney loved to see all stories through rose-colored glasses and tone-down all of his movies. And I get that - he knew his audience was school-age children, so he had to make his films less graphic in order to appeal to their parents. But I was happy to see that J.M. Barrie was more honest. If a bunch of men were all living on an island, there would be violence, especially if those men included swarthy, swashbuckling pirates and fantasy-obsessed tween and teenage boys. Violence is a must-have! And it was there, in the book. And I was glad for it. It wasn't overly grotesque or unnecessarily gory, but he didn't sugar-coat the violence, fighting, or death.
2. Hook was not some bumbling idiot! That depiction in Disney's versions (including the new Disney Jr. version of Jake and theNeverland Pirates which I watch with my three sons) drives me CRAZY! How would a pirate assume such a high-ranking position on a ship, and amass such a loyal pirate crew if he were a bumbling idiot? He wouldn't! But I know that Disney loves to make villains laughable, and growing up, I did like Hook because I could laugh at him, but I was very glad to learn that in Barrie's book, he was a cunning, sophisticated, multi-dimensional character who struggled with his role as pirate-leader and archenemy of Peter. It, again, was honest of a pirate. I love that Hook was written as a highly educated man, turned sour by the corruption of greed and power. He would have to be smart to be captain of a pirate crew. And even though he is matched by a teenage boy, Peter's lack of fear made him difficult to defeat - how does one best a person who fears and remembers nothing? Peter's confidence came from his invincibility, and Hook would never be able to best that because he was a grown man who knew his own inevitability.

While I still love the story, and adore the creative invention J.M. Barrie brings to the world, the page, and the minds of his readers in Peter Pan, I found the actual source material to be a bit wonky and lackluster. It could have been better for the amazing story that he created.

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