Sunday, July 24, 2011

Peter Pan and Edinburgh

A few months ago, my husband and I traveled to Scotland and England. In anticipation of this, I decided to revisit a few classics written by English and Scottish authors.

I started with PETER PAN by J.M. Barrie.

Barrie was born in Scotland and attended the University of Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a delightfully literary city and includes a Writers Museum and a Poets Museum as well as an impressive monument to Sir Walter Scott (IVANHOE).

Sir Walter Scott Monument

University of Edinburgh
But alas, no monument or marker commemorating the creator of Peter Pan. So, the best I could do was take a picture of the University of Edinburgh. By the way, one of Barrie’s classmates at the university was Arthur Conan Doyle – but I’ll save that for another post.

Like most Americans, my familiarity with Peter Pan comes from the image on the peanut butter jar, or the Disney animation, then later influenced by Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman. I also remember attending a Lyric Theater production back in high school. Had I ever actually read the book?

Sadly, I had to answer no. Time to remedy that.

Though the story itself was quite familiar, one element really surprised me: point of view. From the title,
I would assume that this is Peter’s story, so it would be told from his point of view. Or maybe Wendy – a girl on the verge of being a teen who encounters a boy refusing to grow up. But no, the story is told entirely by an omniscient narrator who never delves too deeply into the minds of any character. But then, maybe that is part of the magic of the story. Consider this passage:

Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children's minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can't) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtinesses and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.

Barrie even uses direct address in the form of second person “you” to speak directly to the reader. It is as if he is assuring us, don’t take this too seriously. The story you are about to hear is all in fun, no need to be worried, but do hold on tight because we are about to embark on a marvelous adventure.

Yes, Peter Pan is a great adventure story and if you haven’t ever taken the time, I urge you to visit Barrie’s original.