Peter Pan is J. M. Barrie's most famous work, in the form of a 1904 play and a 1911 novel, respectively. Both versions tell the story of Peter Pan, a mischievous little boy who can fly, and his adventures on the island of Neverland with Wendy Darling and her brothers, the fairy Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys, the Indian princess Tiger Lily, and the pirate Captain Hook. The play and novel were inspired by Barrie's friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family. Barrie continued to revise the play for years after its debut; the novel reflects one version of the story.
"All children, except one, grow up." Thus begins a great classic of children's literature that we all remember as magical. What we tend to forget, because the tale of Peter Pan and Neverland has been so relentlessly boiled down, hashed up, and coated in saccharine, is that J.M. Barrie's original version is also witty, sophisticated, and delightfully odd. The Darling children, Wendy, John, and Michael, live a very proper middle-class life in Edwardian London, but they also happen to have a Newfoundland for a nurse. The text is full of such throwaway gems as "Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter Pan when she was tidying up her children's minds," and is peppered with deliberately obscure vocabulary including "embonpoint," "quietus," and "pluperfect." Lest we forget, it was written in 1904, a relatively innocent age in which a plot about abducted children must have seemed more safely fanciful. Also, perhaps, it was an age that expected more of its children's books, for Peter Pan has a suppleness, lightness, and intelligence that are "literary" in the best sense. In a typical exchange with the dastardly Captain Hook, Peter Pan describes himself as "youth... joy... a little bird that has broken out of the egg," and the author interjects: "This, of course, was nonsense; but it was proof to the unhappy Hook that Peter did not know in the least who or what he was, which is the very pinnacle of good form." A book for adult readers-aloud to revel in--and it just might teach young listeners to fly. (Ages 5 and older) --Richard Farr