Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, January 31, 2020


The Annotated Peter Pan by J. Barrie, edited with an introduction and notes by Maria Tatar (2011)

I admit that I am a fan of annotated books; they can add depth and understanding to classics works like those edited by Martin Gardner or Leslie Klinger.  Alas some tell us more about the annotator than they do about the author and his work.  This is not one of those.

When you talk about Barrie's Peter Pan, you have to be careful about what book you're speaking of.  It could be The Little White Bird; or, Adventures in Kensington Garden (1902, a sort of precursor) or Peter Pan in Kensington Garden (1906, another precursor) or Peter and Wendy (1911, later published as Peter Pan and Wendy), or Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (the play, first staged in 1904, published in 1928).  You could even add When Wendy Grew Up, an Afterthought ( the epilog to Peter and Wendy, separately published in 1957).  For the sake of this volume, we're sticking with Peter and Wendy, which allows this annotated edition to be "The Centennial Edition."

Thanks to Walt Disney, as well as Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigsby,and even Allison Williams, most of us know the basic story of Peter Pan, although in a somewhat sweetened version. And most of the texts we have read have been abridged and sanitized -- as have a lot of children's literature from the past.  So some of us may have a hard time reconciling the bloodthirsty murderous instincts of Peter and the Lost Boys, they were an important part of Barrie's original vision.  Peter and the Lost Boys are not the only ones who can kill with abandon; Hook and his pirates, as well as the Indians, also slay without compunction.  (The Indians proudly carry around the scalps of both the Lost Boys and the pirates they have killed.)  Death seems to be a game with all concerned.  Peter and the Boys often go looking for battle and Peter was just as apt to switch sides in the middle of fighting.  At least once, when Peter switched sides to join the Indians in fighting the Lost Boys, the rest of the Lost boys decided to follow Peter and also switch sides -- leaving the Indians no choice but to also switch sides so Peter and the Boys were playing Indians fighting the Indians playing the Lost Boys.

Tiger Lily's Indian tribe, by the way, had the now very unfortunate name of the Pickaninnies.  (The name "derives from the Portuguese pequenino [boy, child], a noun based on the adjective for 'very small boy'.")  The racially sensitive word was in racially sensitive use since the 17th century, so Barrie does not get a pass for this.

Both Barrie and Peter Pan suffer the attitudes of the time although every once in a while we get a glimmer of more progressive social commentary;  at one point Lost Boy nibs says, "all I remeber about my that she often said to father, 'Oh, how I wish I had a cheque-book of mn own!"

The annotations also allow us to understand some of the now-outdated references.  We learn that Hook was "the only man that the Sea-Cook feared," and are reminded that the Sea-Cook was a nickname for Long John Silver and that Robert Lewis Stevenson had originally planned to title Treasure Island as The Sea-Cook.  Or that "pickle" was a term for a mischievous child.  Or that Tinker Bell was originally to be called Tippy or Tippytoe.  Or that one of Hook's pirates was named Alf Mason in honor of the writer A. E. W. Mason, the author of The Four Feathers and the Inspector Hanuad mysteries.

This volume is gloriously illustrated with drawings from various editions of (and about) the book (including Arthur Rackham's complete drawings from Peter Pan in Kensington Garden), as well as photographs of various early productions of the play and of Barrie and others.  There are also numerous articles on Barrie and Peter Pan and details on the Peter Pan in the cinema, and the various prequels, sequels and spin-offs by other authors.

Barrie married actress Mary Ansell in in 1894.  They were divorced in 1909, following her affair with Gilbert Cannan.  Barrie, whom his friend H. G. Wells described as a man of "little vitality," was rumored to never have consumated the marriage.  His attention was focused instead on the four young sons of widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies; there is no indication that this attraction was sexual, but may go a lot to explain parts of  Peter Pan.  "Barrie himself apparently never had the desire to stray with adults.  His adoration of the Llewelyn Davies boys and his devotion to Sylvia had always been enough to sustain him."  Barrie's childhood was marked by a recurring thought/horror that he would one day no longer be a child, that he would grow up.  As an adult, he was a generous and kindly person, even while friends described him as "reticent," "morose," and gloomy."  Like Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie never wanted to become an adult.

Reading Peter and Wendy as an adult was an unexpected pleasure, magnified greatly by Tatar's annotations and her highly readable articles and analyses including in The Annotated Peter Pan.

Good stuff.

1 comment:

  1. It certainly was a favorite story of mine as a kid. Although I was always puzzled about women playing the role not matter how much it was explained to me.