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.*
No Rating (1st Read – 2013)
4 Stars (2nd Read – 2017)
Anyone looking for a fun, whimsical tale about children and pirates and magical islands... or anyone looking for something with somewhat darker undertones and a terrifying main character, depending on how you look at it ;-)