10/31/11 - fear and children

In today's excerpt - on All Hallows Eve, better known as Halloween, we would note that children—those not too many steps removed from infancy and just past Winnie the Pooh—remember Halloween and forget that All Hallows Day (All Saints' Day) follows. And so—as with the killing of Bambi's mother by hunters, or the mother who wants to abandon her children in Hansel and Gretel—the most enduring children's stories feature fear, death, or scandalous characters, the very things that parents would guard them against. Thus Peter Pan has endured—the demon boy who stole children in the night, changed sides in a fight, and killed without conscience:

"Peter Pan opened at the Duke of York's Theatre on 27 December 1904, the day after Boxing Day, having been postponed due to difficulties with the flying equipment. Three days later Sir William Nicholson, who designed the costumes, reported: 'It is a huge success - biggest bookings they've ever known.'

"Judging by early fan letters, there was more of an interest in Wendy than Peter, with a number of 6-to 9-year-olds wanting to marry her. The part of Wendy was taken by Mary Ansell's friend Hilda Trevelyan and the consensus was that she 'acted the best'. Kenneth Morrisson pleaded: 'Please write and tell me whether your love for Peter Pan is real, I should so love to know.' ...

"The fact that here was a demon boy who not only has no love in him, but steals children from their beds in the night, changes sides in a fight, and kills without conscience, was ignored. It was not in the nature of the production that anyone should notice.

"The play underwent constant revision from the moment of its first rehearsal. Captain Hook was almost nowhere to be seen initially. It was only after Gerald du Maurier, who played both Mr Darling and Hook, made such a good job of the pirate that Hook assumed a large presence on stage, eventually to command a whole Act of his own. But that of course meant that when Peter defeated him, the demon boy was taken to be a terrific goody. ...

"Lost was any interest in why the author should have chosen the name Pan, after the goat-foot god of Greek myth, who was abandoned by his mother as a child and appeared to Faust with his pipes and Dionysian maenads—'the Wild-folk', who 'know what no man else doth guess'. Pan is also of course the origin of the European Pied Piper myth, in which all the children of Hamelin are stolen from their homes and led into the mountain. It would be some time before biographers dug out of Jim's [author J.M. Barrie] original notes for the play that Peter was marked out as 'a demon boy, villain of the story'. ...

"In the house of Mr and Mrs Darling ... there never was a simpler happier family until the coming of Peter Pan.

"Peter had seen many tragedies, but he had forgotten them all ... 'I forget [people] after I kill them.'


Piers Dudgeon


Neverland: J.M Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan


Pegasus Books


Copyright 2009 by Piers Dudgeon


176-177, 210
barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment