Before Mary Martin popularized him on American television, before Walt Disney transposed him into celluloid, animated fame, before he became synonymous with peanut butter, Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up, was a dramatic product of the creative imagination of James Barrie and was first staged in London on today’s date, Dec. 27, in 1904.
Few fruits of the theatrical arts have spawned so great a quantity of discussion across so broad a number of fields.
There are endless illustrations taken from Barrie’s work by world-renowned theologians as well as illiterate backwoods preachers. Philosophers of every stripe have joined in verbal jousting, speculating on the human psyche from a hypothetical perspective, not to mention more parents than will ever be known have been forced to deal with the same on a practical child-rearing level. In the field of psychiatry there is even a condition known as the Peter Pan syndrome.
First of all, let’s face it: Fairy tales have power. Whether it is “Hansel and Gretel,” “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Big, Bad Wolf,” they all appeal to some deep seated anxiety within every human being.
The Never Never Land of Peter Pan was not an amusement park, but a place of danger where children who fell out of their cribs wound up never to see their parents again. Peter was not the lovable Mary Martin dressed up like Robin Hood, but an aggressive warrior whose goal was to kill Captain Hook.
It is about faith. In my favorite scene, poisoned Tinker Bell’s life is slowly waning from her minuscule body. She pleads to the audience of mostly children that if children will only believe in fairies, she will get well. Peter cries to them: “Do you believe? If you believe, clap your hands!”
Yes, children believe, and Tinker is saved. Children have faith.
Peter Pan is about humankind’s innate fear of the future. Long ago, as a 10-year-old, I remember our pastor warning about the vicissitudes of life — the unpredictable twists and turns that we confront on the road of life. That realization was accompanied by real fear. My childish imagination created an imaginary safe haven in a plan to move to the mountains, build a log cabin and eschew this dangerous world (my own little Never Never Land). Of course I matured out of that mindset, but not everyone does.
It is about life and not always choosing the easy way. A better theme might be, “Life is hard and not for the squeamish!”
It has been suggested that the real protagonist of the play was Wendy, not Peter. Peter avoided adult responsibilities and merely wanted to enjoy a life void of duties.
Wendy is a girl of the verge of becoming a woman, but more important, she does not abdicate her ensuing obligations. Eventually, circumstances force both to make decisions as to residing in the actual world with all of its challenges or Never Never Land shunning life’s obligations. Wendy elects realism; Peter averts it. His last words to Wendy are, “To live would be an awful big adventure.”
But he did not choose it.
A healthier perspective is needed.
Many, many Bible Scriptures counsel us about fear, but my favorite is from Joshua: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Here is another, maybe even more inspiring thought. We all know there are 365 days in the year. “Coincidentally,” perhaps, there are also 365 verses in the Bible that contain the phrase “be not afraid.” Perhaps the Lord seeks to give us his encouragement each day of our lives.