I went and bought a copy of Peter Pan the other week, because despite it being just about my favourite book ever, I actually did not own a proper copy. And by proper, I mean the actual text by Barrie, and not some re-imagined or rehashed or condensed version, because despite the pretty pictures, these versions just can’t come close to the real thing.
Why do I love this book? What is it about Peter and Hook and Tink and the Neverlands that makes me feel so awed and anguished all at once? Sure, I think Barrie has a way with words that completely captivates – a rollicking pace, sly wit, moments of reflection or sadness immediately offset with humour and action so the story, like Peter, immediately darts off in a new and exciting direction. Barrie’s narrative voice is excellent – knowing, interested in words, always considerate of the reader, engaging.
And sure, there is the appeal of running away and never growing up, and playing at adventure and derring-do without any thought for what you have to do with the rest of your life, and then settling for something sub-par anyway (as Barrie, quite poignantly, points out is the case with Mr Darling). There is the glorious nature of the vivacity and cockiness of youth, the blossoming of imagination, of believing things like flying and mermaids and skirmishes with pirates and living in a house in the roots of a tree is not only possible, but also such grand fun. All this is attractive, and captured so piquantly in Peter, this spirited little boy with his leaf and vine clothes and obnoxious crowing and baby teeth, so full of recklessness and excitement and devastating naivety. Barrie writes of Peter Pan that ‘no women has ever yet been able to resist’ and I think this is true of most children, and even adults as well.