Thursday, May 8, 2008

Yep. I Still Believe

Most people would agree that “Peter Pan” is a great children’s story. Easily one of the Top Ten of all time. Some might know the back story of Scottish author J.M. Barrie and his love for a family of children not his own. Sadly I know too many kids today who think Peter Pan is just a peanut butter and Capt. Hook had something to do with Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams.


Fortunately I grew up in an age where books came first, the televised version later. At that time, little boys viewed Never Never Land as a wonderful place where you NEVER had to clean your room. So many kids today have someone named Mom to clean for them that such a thrill is lost. Little girls my age tended to be split into two camps: those enthralled with the “bad boy” image of Peter the Playful, a carefree Maker of Merriment who didn’t worry about tomorrow when today was so much fun. The second camp was comprised of those who‘d cherish the role of Caretaker of the Carefree. Adults probably thought the plot was silly. Boys who never grew up. How ridiculous. Unless, of course, they’d had the misfortune of being married to one. The only ridiculous moment most kids experienced was later discovering the T.V. version of Peter Pan had been played by a woman. Sacrilege!

If a casting call had been held in my childhood neighborhood, I’d have been stuck as Wendy. Good old reliable Wendy. Nothing wrong with being dependable. But she was just so…predictable. In the Ice Cream 32 Flavors of Life, Wendy was Vanilla. Truth was, in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to be Tink. And no, not just because we were both tiny. In spite of her size, Tink was all the things I wasn’t. Feisty. Self assured. Fearless. So she had a temper. I did too, although my parents discouraged me from putting it to use. What I most admired about Tink was that even when she grew angry with Peter's demotion of her in favor of Wendy, Tink still risked her life to save his. She was hot tempered, but it was balanced with compassion. She wasn’t Mother Teresa by a long shot, but her self sacrifice illustrated for little girl me the definition of true love. Caring for someone more than you cared for yourself. Even as I clapped my hands to keep Tink going, I knew she didn’t really need me. She was feisty. Self assured. DETERMINED. It didn’t matter that Peter didn’t want to grow up, Tink was never going to give up on him. I could do that. Growing taller was optional.

J.M. Barrie, I have discovered, had his own fairy-like quality. Standing a towering 4’10”, he looked nothing like his movie counterpart, Johnny Depp. Yet despite the many tragedies in his life, Barrie managed to cling to the best part of us which never truly grows up: the belief that anything is possible. When hope feeds motivation to keep dreams alive, you WANT to give back to your fellow man. Barrie’s gift of true love has endured for 100 years, allowing adults to recall the better parts of childhood and kids to believe anything is possible. You just have to believe.

I believe I owe you a Thank You, J.M. Barrie. You encouraged me to grow up without growing old. And to paraphrase your speech from Tink to Peter Pan: “You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That's where I'll always love you. That's where I'll be waiting.”

That's the place where hope dwells.


shug said...

There is, of course, a dark side to peter Pan, given the times in which was written. In the context of the First World war it's easy to give another meaning to a place where children never grow up. And indeed two of the Llewelyn Davies boys didn't properly grow up, one killed in the trenches and one drowned. Even one that did grow up threw himself under a train in 1960

On a cheerier note JM Barrie went to the school I work in. We have lots of memorabilia of him, including a bit of desk he vandalised. The "enchanted garden"- Moat Brae- which inspired peter Pan is a hundred yards from here. It used to contain a beautiful little statue of peter Pan. Unhappily the building is derelict now though there's talk of doing it up. Barrie's school was demolished in the 1890s so that the one I'm sitting in could be built on top. However if you go down into the basement you can still see the little cobbled road which led into the original building and along which, no doubt, JM walked.

On a McMillany type of note, you probably won't know but Barrie's pal, and the one who outshone him academically at school (if I look up from my classroom to the prizeboards his name is above barrie's) was called James McMillan. He also died tragically young.

hope said...

Ah Prof, you know how much I love "rest of the story" moments. And how is it you always have the coolest connections to things which interest me? :)

We both know how curious I am, so I did a bit of reading on Barrie before I wrote this piece. True, he wasn't the greatest of scholars. But I was struck at the irony of him creating a place where children never grew up while in his life the children whom he loved died, often tragically. Then again, perhaps in his mind Barrie was putting those boys in a "safe" place where the world couldn't hurt them.

I was surprised to discover the boy he based Peter on hated the character and was angry when Barrie died and left his money to a children's hospital instead of "Peter". But I had to laugh at the quote on a woman, leaving the Theatre after seeing the play complain that Peter was a pedophile. Good grief!

Barrie wasn't a saint in the adult world but he did create a wonderful one for children. All of us have problems and our quirks [okay, some worse than others] but it's nice to have a place like Never Never Land to visit from time to time.

Every time we talk Prof, the world seems to shrink in size a little more. Oh..and a standing ovation to the McMillan clan for it's educational gifts to the world. I learn something new every time we pause to type. ;)

Rachel Fox said...

My Mum grew up on Peter Pan and still loves it madly at 84 years of age! She too has had to be far more Wendy (in everyday life) than she would have liked. Or at least more Wendy on the surface...