28 January 2017

Review: Peter Pan

Peter Pan Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a sublime little book this is, which I had never read till now. It's so much sadder and full of longing, both for those who grow up and those who don't, than I ever expected it to be. Among the many things I found interesting was that there is only one actual fairy in it, the splendidly chaotic Tinker Bell, but the story isn't about her. In fact she disappears for much of it.

Rather, it is the adventures of humans in Faërie: the lost boys, the Darling children, the Pirates, the Indians, even Peter. But, as Tolkien, who as a very young man (1910) had seen the stage play of Peter Pan and was much impressed by it, pointed out decades later, that is what good fairy-stories are:

Stories that are actually concerned primarily with “fairies,” that is with creatures that might also in modern English be called “elves,” are relatively rare, and as a rule not very interesting. Most good “fairy-stories” are about the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches. Naturally so; for if elves are true, and really exist independently of our tales about them, then this also is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them. Our fates are sundered, and our paths seldom meet. Even upon the borders of Faërie we encounter them only at some chance crossing of the ways.
On Fairy-stories,  ¶ 11

Part of what's interesting about this is that Tolkien of course grew to loathe fluttery gossamer fairies like Tinker Bell. Another interesting point, which Dimitra Fimi has discussed in her Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits (2010) 34-38, is the moment when Peter, in order to help save Tinker Bell, reaches out to children in the real world who are asleep and 'might be dreaming of the Neverland, and who were therefore nearer to him than you think: boys and girls in their nighties, and naked papooses in their baskets hung from trees' (chapter XIII, Do You Believe in Fairies?). The idea that dreaming children are 'nearer' to Faërie reappears in Tolkien's early poem (1915) 'You and Me and the Cottage of Lost Play,' in which children reach Faërie through their dreams. Tolkien also later speaks of this Path of Dreams, the Olórë Mallë, in The Book of Lost Tales, Part One.  We might also hear a more distant echo of this in Frodo's dream/vision of Elvenhome while in the house of Tom Bombadil.

So both for its storytelling and for its influence elsewhere, this is definitely a book worth reading.

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