Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lovely Wendy's here to stay

My favorite character in Peter Pan may be obvious (what?), but Wendy Darling was always my next favorite. So I have felt protective about her portrayal for years, even before I learned of the character's origin. Wendy Moira Angela Darling was based on Margaret Henley, daughter of William Ernest Henley, author of the poem “Invictus” and the man Robert Louis Stephenson used as the inspiration for Long John Silver. (Again, so much involving Peter Pan folds back on itself.) Margaret was too young to pronounce her r's and called Barrie her “fwendy-wendy.” She died of cerebral meningitis in 1894, at the age of five.

Thus it's with relief I find respectful depictions of Wendy throughout the years, varied as they are. I think most of us are used to the depiction of Wendy in the 1953 animated Disney film, 

but before then, she was mostly depicted as darker-haired, from Alice Woodward's 1904 illustrations

to Flora White's in 1914

to Roy Best (the artist whose 1931 book illustrations are the first I've found of Captain Hook in a red coat). 

Those versions make the sudden appearance of Wendy as white-blonde a bit startling. (Also a little disturbing is how grown-up Anne Grahame Johnston's Wendy sometimes looks.) 

Nadir Quinto went a similar route, with a rather alarming Wendy in frosted eyeshadow. At least Peter is accurate to the book. And I suppose that could be an acorn button on the chain around her neck.

When it came to deciding how I wanted Wendy to look in The Stowaway, I had to give the matter real thought. Because I do describe all my characters physically, at least briefly, I had to think how she was most real to me. Finally I realized that in some sense she will always be the Wendy from the first copy of the original story I read, with Nora S. Unwin's 1950 illustrations. Her slight, elfin Peter will always live in my mind somewhere as well. (This, incidentally, is the mystery book I found in my mailbox two weeks ago. I believe it's a first edition. I remain baffled by its arrival.)

Without Wendy there would be no story. Because she's a girl, she was my entry point into the story, and while I didn't so much identify with her and her aspirations, I thought of her as someone I would like as a friend. I have the impression Barrie regarded her highly as well, given her rounded characterization. Wendy chooses her role as mother of the lost boys, accepts the trade-offs that come with it, and is the one at the end who not only gets her brothers home but finds a home for the boys. She accepts that Peter cannot give her what she wants from him, and she moves on with grace. While the Edwardian era did not offer a girl much alternative, I find it refreshing that Wendy actually looked forward to the role of being a traditional mother.This desire can be a difficult character trait to pull off even now, but Barrie did it without being either condescending or idealizing her.

I just learned that artist Jan Ormerod died on May 8. Her version of Wendy from 1988 is more carefree and whimsical than most, and it seems appropriate to close with her. Wendy deserves a few moments of abandon.

(Title quote from the 1954 Broadway musical version of Peter Pan, by the way.)


  1. I think we must have had the book illustrated by Roy Best when I was a child. Because I was very pleasantly surprised to see one of my earliest book memories, the illustration of Wendy sewing Peter's shadow on. And I thought Captain Hook always had a red coat. Thanks for a sweet memory.

    1. Apparently I can't add an image to my comment. See if this link works--and does it look familiar?

  2. Just linked from your new entry about Margaret and her father - poor little girl!