So why is James Matthew Barrie's original Peter Pan still important today?
|Gwynedd M. Hudson, 1931|
❧ Because Peter Pan has value as a work of literature, as well as a source of enduring fantasy images. It's written with style and whimsy and wit, with characters who contain both good and bad qualities. It doesn't talk down to children, but instead presents them with challenging ideas and an ending that is not altogether happy. And thus it's a book that unfolds with further meaning when read by adults, one which takes us back to a time when the possible was not so circumscribed by experience and failure, yet which doesn't altogether dismiss the realities of the world.
|Flora White, 1913|
❧ Because other eras have something to teach us, in both positive and negative aspects. It's important to understand how people lived and thought in the not-actually-so-distant past, in order to understand what we're doing here and now.
Any work of art from the past will contain ideas and attitudes we find jarring now. I've been catching up on books written ten years ago and I'm surprised how much what is acceptable to say has changed in just that short period of time. Edwardian Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie had little reason to study the history of the American Indian when he wrote a fantasy play for children. We in the modern world have no excuse not to examine these attitudes and realize what is accurate and fair. And perhaps seeing that other eras were not all as consumer-focused and cynical as ours can show us an alternative, or at least be a comfort.
❧ Because there are women--and men--who treasure the idea of being parents, though it may not be fashionable to say so. Wendy does not have to be seen as an anti-feminist icon.
|Scott Gustafson, 1991|
❧ Because families still lose children, to illness or tragedy. It's not as common as it was in the past and it's rarely talked about outside of support groups and immediate families. But there are parents who ache as much for their lost ones as Mrs. Darling does. Perhaps there is some solace for them in literature like Peter Pan, especially if one knows that Barrie's own childhood was marked by the death of his older brother, and that this loss resonates throughout the book.
|The enduring power of an image|
❧ Because dismissing literature from the past is like refusing to listen to our grandparents. Our elders have something to teach us. Yes, some of their attitudes may seem unforgivable. But they have knowledge and experience and wisdom we should consider as well.