Book Review: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

When Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, shows up one night, Wendy, Michael, and John all fly away with him to Neverland. Wendy becomes the mother for all the boys, and they have all sorts of adventures with Peter and his Lost Boys. But Captain Hook has a special vendetta against Peter, and they will have to fight him if Wendy and her brothers are ever to get back home.

Book Review: Peter Pan by J.M Barrie | fantasy, classic
Title: Peter Pan
Genre: ,
Pages: 166
My Rating: 4 Stars
More Info: Goodreads, Amazon


I don’t think anyone needs a real review of this book, and if you do, there are already a million out there. Instead, I’m just going to talk about my thoughts because I have SO MANY. So let’s jump right in! (Pro Tip: Reading the first sentence or two of each paragraph will kinda give you a summary if you just want that, since I know my review is long.)

*SPOILER ALERT*: The whole rest of this review is filled with unmarked spoilers.

First of all, let’s talk about Peter because, and I’m dead serious about this, he’s one of the most absolutely terrifying characters I’ve ever read about:

– Peter maimed his own people just so they’d fit in the entrance to their home, rather than simply carving more space in the openings, and one part of the book explained that the number of boys always varied because “when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out” (i.e. he kills them).

– Pretty much every relationship Peter had reminded me in some way of an abusive relationship, and he was always the abusive one. For example, when he first took Wendy and her brothers to Neverland, the three of them were scared and hungry and tired after flying for so long, but Wendy told her brothers to be nice to Peter, regardless of how he treated them, because they were dependent on him in order to survive (they didn’t know how to get home or how to stop flying or even how to get food from birds the way he did). For another example, Peter didn’t like it when anyone knew anything that he didn’t, so when twins joined the Lost Boys and he didn’t know what twins were, the twins “were always vague about themselves, and did their best to give satisfaction by keeping close together in an apologetic sort of way.” For another example, if they messed up while playing make believe, Peter would rap them on the knuckles. One of the boys actually said out loud that he was afraid of Peter. Literally the boys just went along with anything Peter said, whether they actually agreed or liked it or not, because they were afraid of how he would punish them if they didn’t. Because he did in fact punish them if they didn’t.

– When asked if he kills many, Peter casually replied, “Tons.” Wendy also noticed right away, on their way to Neverland, that whenever any of them fell asleep and started falling out of the sky, Peter thought it was funny, and though he did save them, “you felt it was his cleverness that interested him and not the saving of human life.”

– At one point, Peter purposely started breathing rapidly because “there is a saying in the Neverland that, every time you breathe, a grown-up dies; and Peter was killing them off vindictively as fast as possible.”

– Sometimes Peter would show up after being gone all day with some grand tale about fighting and killing, even though there was no proof that it actually happened, but other days he’d show up and tell them nothing happened and then they’d find a dead body. A+ for creepiness, Peter.

– The people in his life were clearly so unimportant to him that he just forgot them. By the end of the book, he didn’t even remember Tinkerbell or Hook.

– Peter literally didn’t understand the difference between real and make-believe. For example, sometimes his boys would start starving because they kept pretending to eat meals, and Peter wouldn’t understand or would get angry if they tried to ask for real food. It may not seem like a big deal when reading about it, but it’d be a lot scarier if you encountered it in real life because a delusional person like that could not be reasoned with.

– Since Peter Pan is a child, he thinks like a child and acts like a child. He’s impulsive and doesn’t think about how his actions affect others. Could you imagine if we gave children—not-yet-matured people who act on impulse and don’t understand the consequences of their actions—weapons that could kill people? When he started breathing rapidly to kill all the adults, it was literally just because he was upset over Wendy wanting to leave Neverland and was essentially throwing a tantrum. He attempted to murder people because of a tantrum.

– So, to summarize, Peter was basically a child murderer, in both ways that the phrase can be interpreted. Seriously, he was creepy, narcissistic, selfish… but I think that was kind of the point. Kids do think differently and view the world differently than adults. They’re not murderers, that’s not what I mean, but they’re often selfish and don’t understand how their actions affect people. But that’s not their fault, they’re simply still learning and maturing. So Peter wasn’t meant to be the villain, but I think he was someone to be pitied and an example of why we NEED to grow up. I feel like the message so many people take from this story is not to grow up, but I’ve taken the opposite message: It’s good to keep some of our childish whimsy intact, but we need to mature in certain ways, to accept responsibilities, to think about how our actions affect others, or we become like Peter. And I think it’s also about parents being there (or not being there) for their kids. Or maybe it was just a whimsical story with no real meaning whatsoever. What do I know?

– However, I do want to point out that Peter wasn’t all bad. He made sure no one bothered the Neverbird when she was sitting on her eggs, he chose to save Wendy when he had to make a choice between his life or hers, he made sure to keep the eggs safe when the Neverbird gave him her nest so that he could survive, and any time he fought, he did so fairly, just to name some examples.

Now for the rest of the book:

– The island of Neverland itself was just as terrifying as Peter! It was full of remorseless murderers! All the people and all the creatures—Lost Boys, pirates, natives, mermaids, fairies, animals—killed with no apparent sense that it was a bad thing to do. Wendy was the only one on the entire island who seemed fazed by death and violence.

The lost boys were out looking for Peter, the pirates were out looking for the lost boys, the redskins were out looking for the pirates, and the beasts were out looking for the redskins. [. . .]

All wanted blood except the boys, who liked it as a rule, but to-night were out to greet their captain.

– Hook may have been the antagonist, but he was my favorite character. There was no explanation of who started the war between him and Peter, and both Hook and Peter were leaders of their own group, were controlling, were feared, have killed many people, and have even killed their own people—in other words, Hook was no worse than Peter, and he also wasn’t all bad. He had feelings, thoughts, insecurities, and fears. He was clever and oddly tortured (I say oddly because I don’t think anyone else in the world has ever been so tortured over “good form”) and charming when he wanted to be but also terrible in a way that was kind of hilarious sometimes, like in this line: “The exhausted four who had carried the little house lay prone on the deck, where even in their sleep they rolled skilfully to this side or that out of Hook’s reach, lest he should claw them mechanically in passing.” Technically he was even disabled, since he was an amputee, but he found his hook so useful that if he ever had kids, he’d have wanted them to be born with hook hands too. (Apparently hooks are the must-have multi-tool for pirates—perfect for combing your hair and slaughtering your enemies!) He also loved flowers and sweet music, and he wore his hat at a rakish angle. Come on, how can you not love him?! Seriously though, Hook was interesting. (You can even read more about him in J.M. Barrie’s speech, “Captain Hook at Eton.” This is the best link I could find.) Also, unlike Peter, he seemed to have reasons for the things he did and at least remembered the people in his life and the people he killed, which makes it seem as though even he had more regard for life.

– The book had a unique writing style that sucked me in, and there were some absolutely gorgeous and amazing quotes.

In one ungrammatical sentence, as long as the ribbons that conjurers pull from their mouths, she told of the capture of Wendy and the boys.

– The big battle scene at the end was awesome. Between Hook panicking over the crocodile, Peter sneaking onto the ship, the pirates all being terrified of whatever was in the cabin, Slightly counting every time another pirate died, and then all of them fighting like crazy or throwing themselves overboard until only Hook remained, it was so gripping and fantastical and almost seemed realistic that a bunch of kids could beat a group of hardened pirates.

– The book overall was somewhat dark. And strange. But, as I mentioned above, at times it was very much a commentary on childhood and how children view certain aspects of life. But it was also quirky and silly and sometimes funny in an absurd way, like when Wendy passed out, but Peter wouldn’t let them carry her into their home since it would’ve been disrespectful to touch her, but they also couldn’t leave her lying in the open because that was dangerous, so they built a house around her.

So… while I may find Peter Pan himself to be terrifying rather than lovable, I still thought this was a fascinating read both times I read it. It was a strange and uniquely written book, and it’s one of the few classics I have genuinely enjoyed!

*I’ve read this book multiple times. This review was written after my 2nd read.*

Reread Ratings:
No Rating (1st Read – 2013)
4 Stars (2nd Read – 2017)


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  1. Greg

    The Peter Pan review! I remember you mentioning this one. I’ve never read it so this was interesting, also how Disney well… Disney-fied it. TBH I’m surprised how psycho Peter sounds lol but good point about NEEDING to grow up- maybe that’s the entire point of his character. I’ve always thought of the Disney version as celebrating childhood and the carefree aspects- wouldn’t it be great to be free and young rah rah- but maybe not so much.

    I like the idea of Neverland being a terrifying place too. Sounds like not for the faint of heart though. I do like murderous mermaids. 🙂

    I’m not sure I want to read it but I do more about the “real” version now, which is nice. Great review!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yep yep! I told you it’d be long, haha. Peter is definitely psycho though. I’m completely serious that I find him terrifying. I mean, I do think there are certain aspects we should keep from our childhood and certain ways that children have a better outlook on life and are able to make fun and joy in the simplest of things, but there are clearly other ways in which we do NEED to grow up, like thinking how our actions affect others.

      Neverland would definitely not be for the faint of heart. Everyone and everything there wants to kill you lol.

      Glad I could enlighten you 😛

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yay, I’m enlightening people! I first read it because I literally could not sit through the Disney movie but then I heard the book was a lot darker or something so that got me curious.

  2. Bookworm Brandee

    Haha Yes! Can you imagine if all adults acted like Peter? What kind of world would we live in?!? Scary thought! And of course, Hook was your favorite. 😉 It’s been decades since I read Peter Pan but I just might have to revisit it. It seems like maybe there are some relevant messages. I’m glad you enjoyed this classic, Kristen! 😀

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly! If everyone acted like kids and had that maturity level, the world would be terrifying. And Hook is just awesome! I don’t see how anyone can not love him, haha. Thanks!

  3. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    I’ve never actually read Peter Pan (I struggle with classics, it’s a thing) but I have to say Peter sounds just a touch crazy. I think growing up is definitely a good thing and Peter is a prime example of why. I am becoming a little convinced I should read the books thought as this is very different to the idea Disney put in my head for the book. It sounds full on crazy. Wendy sounds like the only level headed one in the whole thing and it’s not like she’s all that grown up. Great review, though. It may be spoiler filled but it certainly gets me interested in trying Peter Pan for myself.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I struggle with classics too. I never love them. At best I kind of somewhat like them. But this one is actually good. Not like blew me away, but still enjoyable. And yes, Peter is definitely crazy lol. But I guess it’s not so much that he’s crazy but rather that he has the maturity of a child, except he’s been given weapons and magic and whatnot, and I don’t think he even understands that when he kills people, he’s actually killing people. But, you know, that’s why it’s important to grow up. Wendy was definitely the only level headed one. And she was the one who had the sense to eventually realize they should leave. Thanks, let me know if you do read it!

  4. Nannetter Demmler

    It has been many years since I read it, I think my son was little and I read it to him. I never thought of Peter they way you described him, but yeah I can totally see where you are coming from. When I think of Peter Pan I tend to think of the Disney version, which of course makes him into a hero and very likable. I wonder what J.M. Barrie was really thinking when he wrote it. If you are looking for a good retell of the stories, check out Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s series Peter and the Starcatchers. Peter is a kinder and gentler soul in this series, but it is still dark.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I mean, it can definitely just be read as a whimsical, battle-filled children’s story, but I couldn’t help but notice all those darker things. The Disney version is definitely completely different! (Well, I’m guessing since I’ve never been able to sit through the movie.) Thanks, I’ll have to check those out since I do like retellings!

  5. Resh

    I really need to read the ‘actual’ Peter Pan. It is so different from the happy twisted version that is more famous

  6. Di @ Book Reviews by Di

    I read the whole thing 😉

    I love your points here and you’ve made me want to go and pick up the original again! I might even be able to squeeze it in considering the length. Your take on this is so interesting and I think you’re right – Peter is a bit of a scary one!!! Although I’d like to think that when Peter is ‘thinning the kids out’ he’s sending them back to the real world….. Or maybe I’m romanticising like Disney here! 😉

    I find it interesting how deep this one can actually be taken – a look at a world from a child’s perspective and what it would be like without the guiding hand of parents and the almost magical abilities that mothers (Mrs. Darling) had of sorting their children’s minds and thoughts. Peter seemed to be yearning for a mother figure in Wendy, even though he scorned parents in general. And then again when he was pretending to be a normal child…

    All in all this is a great story and although Disney made it a little more child friendly and romanticised I didn’t feel they did a bad job. 🙂

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yay! You’re my new favorite 😛 It is a really quick read at least, so I’m sure you could squeeze it in 🙂

      Thanks! I really do find Peter terrifying. I think you’re romanticizing, haha.

      I agree, I’m usually not one to find symbolism or too much hidden meaning, but I feel like there’s so much to this story. It is very much a look at a child’s perspective and how things would be without parents, if no one grew. And yeah, Peter scorns parents but clearly wants one since he wanted Wendy as a mother figure. There was also the way Peter never would’ve been able to take the kids away if Mr. Darling hadn’t acted like a child himself in the beginning, and then he punished himself by staying in the dog kennel, which didn’t solve anything or bring his kids back. I’ve done some reading about J.M. Barrie, and his brother died when he was young and their mother apparently kind of drifted off and stopped being much of a mother after that, or something like that. So I’ve read things about how the book maybe relates to that… I don’t know. There’s so much with this book!

      Honestly, I tried twice, I think once before I read the book and once after, but could not sit through even like half an hour of the Disney movie.

  7. Danya @ Fine Print

    I studied this in uni and let me tell you, pretty much the whole seminar class felt the same way about Peter that you do, Kristen. He’s a little creep who really shouldn’t be left unsupervised, let alone left in charge of a herd of other children. My big project on this book was examining the racism of Peter Pan and the treatment/representation of Indigenous peoples…suffice it to say that there are a lot of sketchy things in this book. But it’s a good read nonetheless!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I would have loved to read this in a classroom setting because I feel like there’s so much to this book and I would just love to discuss it and notice all the things I probably didn’t even pick up on. It is a good read though!

  8. Michelle @ Pink Polka Dot Books

    I read this book a few years ago and was very surprised how different the feel was from the disney stuff. I thought that someone who was going to stay young forever would be more fun-loving and carefree, but Peter was really vicious. It really surprised me when he thought about killing Wendy’s daughter– like WHAT?? I wasn’t prepared to feel so sad during the book. Like I just felt completely sad that Peter was this boy who couldn’t bond with people at all and ended up all alone. Great review!!

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s such a good point. I think I was too busy being terrified of Peter to dwell on much else, but there were some moments in the book when I just felt sad for him and how alone and even how kind of scared he seemed sometimes (not of fighting or anything, but of growing up and stuff like that). Thanks!

  9. Barb (boxermommyreads)

    Great review. I might read this one one day but for now, I’ll be happy with retellings. I did read “Alias Hook” a few years back and it tried to fill in some of the reasons there was a feud to begin with. If you are curious on that take, I suggest looking it up. You are right, Peter Pan sounds downright horrible!

    1. Kristen Burns

      You never know, you might like it if you give it a try 😉 I think you’d almost definitely like Hook at least. I just added Alias Hook to my TBR. I’ll have to see if my library has it though since it’s expensive on Amazon.

  10. Erin @ Paperbackstash

    Great review. I loved this book.

    Actually the terrifying aspects of Peter Pan made another author (Brom) think, and he wrote The Child Thief based off it. It’s a very good fantasy book.

  11. La La in the Library

    I have not read it, but I have both books on my Kindle and now after reading your review I want to get to it more quickly! I knew the story had been whitewashed for the Broadway show, and the cartoon, but I wasn’t aware of how much. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

    1. Kristen Burns

      Can’t wait to see what you think! It was definitely completely nice-ified for the Disney movie lol. I haven’t actually watched the whole movie (I’ve tried, couldn’t stand it), but apparently it’s very different!

  12. Roberta R.

    Can you believe I’ve never read it? This was really interesting! Especially “I feel like the message so many people take from this story is not to grow up, but I’ve taken the opposite message: It’s good to keep some of our childish whimsy intact, but we need to mature in certain ways, to accept responsibilities, to think about how our actions affect others, or we become like Peter. And I think it’s also about parents being there (or not being there) for their kids. Or maybe it was just a whimsical story with no real meaning whatsoever. What do I know?” 😂

    1. Kit (Metaphors and Moonlight)

      A lot of people have never read it, you’re not alone! I was so surprised the first time I read it. To be honest, I actually have not seen the Disney movie (I just couldn’t stand it, idk), but I still didn’t realize the book would have so much darkness.

        1. Kit (Metaphors and Moonlight)

          I hadn’t read the book yet when I first tried to watch the movie, so it wasn’t even that I was annoyed with the sugar coating. Idk what it was, but my brain just rejected it lol. I think it’s the only Disney animated classic movie I couldn’t sit through.