“Not My Mother”: SyFy’s Neverland and J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan, Part Two

December 14, 2011 § 11 Comments

In Part One of my response to SyFy Channel’s latest offering, Neverland, I left you with one of my favorite quotes from J.M. Barrie’s original novel, Peter and Wendy. Need a refresher? Here:

“You are so queer,” [Peter] said [to Wendy], frankly puzzled, “and Tiger Lily is just the same. There is something she wants to be to me, but she says it is not my mother.”

“No, indeed, it is not,” Wendy replied with frightful emphasis.

And there are those who think children’s literature is sweet and uncomplicated.

In my last post, I wrote a ton (I know, these posts are getting long…) about the stakes for each character in Peter Pan: what they want, what they have to lose. Creative Writing 101. In SyFy’s Neverland, I concluded, the stakes for both Peter and Hook are never clearly defined, though they have much to do with power, pixie dust, and proving oneself. But if you were to look back at Barrie’s novel, you’d find that the stakes are, as I said last time, more personal and emotional, and no one has more defined stakes than Wendy—even if the most apt words used to describe them are “something…but not my mother.”

In a little-known but beautiful musical version (not the one Mary Martin made famous, I mean less known, musical theatre trivia fans) composed by Leonard Bernstein, he of West Side Story and Candide, Peter is, as is traditional, played by a girl, but that doesn’t stop Wendy from coming right out with it, in the catchiest little way:

Peter, Peter, you’ve got a smudge on your face/

Allow me, Peter, Peter, to wipe it away/

I know it’s just an old excuse to feel your touch/

But I want to feel your touch!

Make no mistake: Wendy’s experiencing her first love. « Read the rest of this entry »

SyFy’s Neverland and My Own Obsession with the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, Part One: Bad Form

December 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’m pretty surprised that I have not written about Peter Pan yet. Granted, this blog is still young. But I have a lot to say. So much, in fact, that this post has to be split in two, for sanity’s sake. Here in Part One, I give an overview of SyFy’s “prequel” to Peter Pan, Neverland, and some background into my own love for all things Peter Pan. In Part Two, to be posted later, I’ll look more closely at the character of Peter himself, J.M. Barrie’s quest for his own lost childhood, and I will make A SHOCKING CONFESSION. So stay tuned.

Several years ago, I was sitting on a plane with an issue of The New Yorker that I had stolen from my dad’s bathroom (where all the good reading material goes). Inside was an article about the playwright and author J.M. Barrie—probably because the release of Finding Neverland was imminent—and the lamentable personal life that in all likelihood led to the writing of the play Peter Pan, or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. I had loved Peter Pan—as a book, as a concept—for a long time, in part because my version is illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, who is my fave, and more so because it’s just so delightfully sad.

Yes, I said sad. Cathartically, brilliantly full of child-sadness, something that most of my favorite authors seem to have in common. Peter Pan: sad, strange, and endlessly interpretable.

But reading this New Yorker article was a horse of a different color, turning what was, in my mind, a sweetly sad book into a diatribe on loss and frustration and futile escapism. James Barrie himself was such a strange man, stunted as a child because of the death of his brother David, who would never get to grow up, and the subsequent depression of his mother Margaret, who, in her grief, seemed to almost forget who James was. I became so choked up that I had to wash my face in the tiny plane bathroom—and this was very soon after 9-11, when anyone oddly emotional or out of their seat was subject to several suspicious and slightly nasty looks by their fellow travelers. I cried in the airplane bathroom for a good five minutes after reading that, over thirty years after Barrie’s own tragedy-ridden life had ended, in 1960, just before the 50th anniversary of Barrie’s book Peter and Wendy, Peter Llewelyn-Davies, the character’s namesake, threw himself in front of a train pulling into a London platform. He called the book “that terrible masterpiece.”

I’ve never gotten over it. « Read the rest of this entry »

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