The Boy Who Never Grew Up

So, I missed two weeks.  Sorry about that.  There was a family reunion.  And a comic-con.

I also saw a live production of Peter Pan, which was great, and leads in to what I want to talk about today.

This image has been hopping around the net for a while:

And it is related to the original story–Mrs. Darling as a child had heard that Peter held children’s hands part of the way to heaven–but it changes or ignores the rest.

That’s okay.

When Sir J.M. Barrie first wrote the play about a boy who wouldn’t grow up, he wasn’t trying to make a myth.  He was just telling a story, inspired by his own experiences and interacting with his friends’ young sons.  That’s how myths start.   One person tells a story, and someone remembers it and retells it, and each time it’s retold it changes, because different elements are important to different people.

That doesn’t happen as often these days, except perhaps in the stories children tell each other, because the majority of our stories are set in print.  Superhero stories can be mythical in nature, and Captain America stories certainly aren’t being told the way they were back in World War Two.  But even superheroes aren’t quite there the way Peter Pan is.

Peter Pan is still in print, the same book Sir Barrie wrote, but it’s been well over a hundred years since it was written.  Even though we all have access to the story the first way it was told, it’s been retold dozens of times, and we remember Peter the way we saw him in a movie or TV show or a more recent novel.  Not the first play or the children’s book.

However many times the story gets retold, though, most of the core themes stay the same.  The idea that childhood is magical and wonderful and incredibly selfish.  That children are the centers of their own universes.  That there is a darkness in the experience of childhood that we adults can’t or won’t acknowledge very often.

Peter Pan might refuse to grow up, or be incapable of it.  He might be an Angel of Death or simply someone who shows up during transitions in people’s lives.  He might kill Captain Hook and be pleased with himself, or feel guilty.  However people tell it, though, he remains a child who doesn’t grow up, a child who could fly through any bedroom window in the world and include the children who know his story in his adventures.  That keeps him alive for all of us.  That keeps us reimagining him.

So when I try to find inspiration for my writings, I look to Peter Pan and other stories like it.  The stories that stick around for years, not because they’re the best written or have the most popular actors in their films–all that only lasts as long as it takes for a language to evolve or a generation to grow up–but because they pull at our shared experiences as human beings and say something about what it means to be a person that resonates with us.

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