For my first primary text, I looked to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. This story is entirely about the relationship between the worlds of child and adult, and was written primarily for adults, though reinterpreted many times for children. It approaches the child’s world from an adult perspective and places adult desires in the children (yes, even Pan). Most notable is Wendy, whose response to Peter is highly sexualized from the outset, though never fully articulated or even understood. Her desire to be a wife and mother seems more an ingrained behavioral pattern, given by Barrie to conform to Victorian conceptions about female childhood, than the natural motivation of a young girl. For Wendy, the entire adventure is a large-scale game of house, as is her adult life.

The boys and Peter, on the other hand, are shown as actively opposing their prescribed adult roles, though all but Peter eventually succumb. This does not mean that their personalities and actions escape the mediation of adult desires, however. In their innocence and lack of developed senses (whether moral or intellectual), they reflect adult idealization of childhood to the point of Pan’s becoming, in Tim Morris’ words, “the ultimate fetish of childhood.” There is no death, no age, no responsibility, and no sexuality (although the surrounding characters perceive plenty). Pan has little memory and no sense of time, and is a complete narcissist.

The Darlings serve as a foil for the inhabitants of Neverland, portraying the typical Victorian family dynamic: alpha male who doesn’t always know best, nurturing female…and dog. I have yet to figure out why dogs are so often more human than humans; that requires some more research. The same power dynamic appears with Hook. He is adult, powerful, and inexplicably cruel, portraying the most frightening and incomprehensible aspects of adulthood in the children’s world. Even Tinkerbell takes on some aspects of adult remoteness and cruelty with her attempted assassination of Wendy.

Other issues that appear in this text include extreme violence (on the part of the children as much as the adults), racial stereotyping, and gender stereotyping and segregation. To modern Western sensibilities, much of this is unacceptable, and yet Peter Pan is still considered a children’s classic. Perhaps because the adult connection with and idealization of Pan is so strong, parents wish to share the sense of a simultaneously fleeting and immortal childhood with their own children, and to give them due warning of the world to come. Then again, the book could also be a means for exercising control over children by shaping their expectations and, in modern use, urging them to conform to adult perspectives.

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