Many say the current presidential race is the most uncivilized in modern American history. Civility in public discourse, why it seems to have hit a new low and long-term implications for the democratic process.
J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan”, the story of a mischievous boy who could never grow up, has been immortalized on the stage, in fiction, and even in film. This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the novel. From his first appearance, the appeal of Peter Pan has been inter-generational. His home on the island of Neverland was populated with lost boys, mermaids, Indians, pirates, and of course fairies. Children relished his adventures; adults enjoyed the story as a parable of lost youth. For this month’s readers’ review we discuss why, much like Peter himself, the book has never aged.
- Maria Tatar chair of the Program in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University and editor of "The Annotated Peter Pan."
- Jillian Finkle program manager, theater and early childhood, National Children's Museum.
- John Glavin professor of English, Georgetown University.
Read an Excerpt
Reprinted from The Annotated Peter Pan: The Centennial Edition by J. M. Barrie, Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Maria Tata (c) 2011. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. J.M. Barrie's story of "Peter Pan" the boy who never grew up, celebrates its centenary this year and is our Readers' Review this month. Joining me to talk about why the tale of Peter, Wendy and the Lost Boys continues to captivate after all these years, Marie Tatar of Harvard University. She's editor of "The Annotated Peter Pan." John Glavin from Georgetown University and Jillian Finkle from the National Children's Museum.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd what a delight to turn from everyday politics and news of wars and financial disasters to this wondrous story about a little boy, a fairy, a little girl, her brothers. It's just a great story and I hope you'll join us 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com, feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And good morning to all of you.
MR. JOHN GLAVINGood morning, Diane.
MS. MARIA TATARGood morning.
MS. JILLIAN FINKLEGood morning.
REHMGood to have you with us. Maria Tatar, you've just published this new annotated version of "Peter Pan" to mark the 100th anniversary of the book. Why do you think it's endured so well?
TATARIt is a bedtime story that has become a cultural myth. And there is a whiff of an archaic to it. We have Peter Pan who is a kind of hybrid figure. He has a Christian name, but he is Pan, a God -- the God of nature. And he has the power to bring us all under his spell. First, the Darling children at number 14, but then I think he takes -- he whisks them off to Neverland and we go right with him.
REHMYou know, I was so interested in the portrayal of Wendy's parents. The mother especially who seems to regard her children somewhat at a distance, but lovingly, nevertheless.
TATARYes, she's always tiding up their minds...
TATAR...at night. She opens those drawers of their minds. She's sort of a super ego. And then Mr. Darling who is a complete buffoon, actually, more like a child than an adult. He seems totally incompetent. And I think that's one of the reasons why children love this story.
REHMJohn Glavin, how does or why does Peter choose this particular family?
GLAVINI think my answer would be why does Barrie choose this particular family and not Peter. I think Barrie, of course, is fascinated by the family that he based the story on the...
REHMTell me about that family.
GLAVINWell, actually I think Maria ought to talk about the family because she knows them intimately, having taken their photograph albums and their letters and made a marvelous edition of themselves. I'll defer to Maria.
TATAROh, and read their archives. Well, it -- Barrie's story is about magic and enchantment but it's also about trauma and tragedy. He adopted the five Llewellyn Davies boys and after their parents died, first the father had cancer of the jaw, very painful illness. A year later, a year after he died, his wife died. Barrie was in love with Sylvia Llewellyn Davies, no doubt about it. And he showed his love for her by raising her five sons.
REHMTaking care of those children.
TATARHe became their guardian, put them through school and he was a man of means so he was able to do this.
REHMJillian, he did have one favorite among those children, did he not?
FINKLEIt's sad, his favorite was Michael. That he based "Peter Pan" -- well, I guess, he based "Peter Pan" on all five, but it was that Michael was his favorite. And if you look at the pictures in Maria's book, there's a picture of Michael posing and pointing in what looks like a Peter Pan costume. And, I guess, that was the photograph that was used to mold the famous statue of Peter Pan that's now in Kensington Gardens among other places around the world.
REHMFrom your point of view, at the National Children's Museum, why do you think this book has been such an intense delight for children and adults for all these years?
FINKLEWell, for children, I think a big point of it is that the main characters are children. And they like stories about children. It is an adventure story. It has every exciting thing you could imagine, pirates, fairies, mermaids, flying. It has elements that appeal to both boys and girls of different ages. You have the pirates which are very exciting for the older children as well as, like, the fairies which might appeal to the younger children. I think all children identify with that need to break away from their parents and yet come back and know that their parents are still there waiting.
REHMJillian Finkle, she is program manager for theater in early childhood at the National Children's Museum. John Glavin is professor of English at Georgetown University. Maria Tatar is chair of the program in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University. She's editor of the newly released "The Annotated Peter Pan." We do invite your calls, questions. I look forward to hearing from you. John Glavin, you wanted to add something.
GLAVINI wanted to add that, as people are listening to this broadcast, they shouldn't assume that this is only a book for children or a book you'd want to buy -- first of all, it's the most beautiful book in the world and anybody who wants a beautiful book should buy it. But it's -- rereading it for this conversation, I was really struck by what a powerful book it is for adults. It's a very complex story. And if all you know are the adaptations, even the stage version.
REHMOr the film.
GLAVINOr the films, Barrie's pros is very complex and very subtle. And on the one hand he's offering and on the other hand he's taking away endorsements...
REHMGive me an example.
GLAVIN...of childhood. Well, let me say, one way to think about all this is to think about the famous "Lion and the Unicorn." In a way, "The Lion and the Unicorn” represent these two modes of British literature of violence and whimsy. And the thing that is sort of fascinating about the book is the way violence and whimsy move back and forth all the time.
GLAVINI mean, there's a moment when Peter is choosing to die and talks about what a big adventure it will be to die, in a very forthright, unsentimental, unvarnished kind of way. And sometimes, I think, the reason we have to have so many adaptations of "Peter Pan" is that "Peter Pan" itself -- Barrie's "Peter Pan" is really perhaps too much for children to take.
FINKLEI just wanted to read a quote that really exemplifies that beautiful prose that John was referencing. So one of my favorite moments in the book is where he talks about drawing a map of your mind. So "Try to draw a map of a child's mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and there are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with a astonishing splashes of color here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors," and on, it's...
REHMOn and on.
REHMAnd there's another element which is jealousy. Something that comes into it fairly early wouldn't you say, Maria?
TATAROh, yes. And I think John captured the ambiguity, this idea of violence and whimsy. I love the fact that he cited "The Lion and the Unicorn." Because they tell us that children are fabulous monsters. Fabulous, they do have that element of imagination and at the same time, they're little monsters. They do have feelings of jealousy. They want to kill each other at times. Fortunately, in Neverland, there is immunity. So you might shoot an arrow at Wendy but she does survive.
REHMAnd why does she survive?
TATARBecause it's not a real arrow. And Neverland, as Jillian told us just now, is that place where it's a land that is created with the child.
REHMBut you know it's fascinating that Wendy and her charges, her young brothers, have a relatively happy childhood. Why do you suppose Peter is able to convince them that they ought to fly away with him and they don't know how to fly, John?
GLAVINI think it's because Peter knows that in 1911, 1914 is not far away. That is, I think, that this is a novel which in many ways anticipates the first World War and of course the destruction of two of those Llewellyn Davies boys in the trenches. This is a world that looks at the British empire. After all, Neverland is probably in Samoa, we think. These -- right? Because it's near Robert Louis Stevenson's house to which Barrie was invited as a Neverland.
GLAVINSo there's the sense -- the satire, for example, on Mr. Darling, is really a satire in counting houses and all of those people who sit in offices in London and rake in the profits of empire. And for the boys, that's not the fate they want. They want to go out and fight the battles. But Barrie knows that those battles are very dangerous and ultimately deadly battles.
TATARYes, John, you've captured the cultural context. There's also the fact that it's nighttime, a time when children are afraid and who knows whether they'll wake up, you know. We have this prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep, if I should die before I wake," so this is a time of danger, of shadows, of monsters. And so that whole anxiety about mortality is right in the book.
REHMMaria Tatar of Harvard University. She's editor of "The Annotated Peter Pan." When we come back, we're going to open the phones because so many of our listeners want to join us. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd we're going to open the phones. This is the 100th anniversary of the book "Peter Pan" by J. M. Barrie, which, as my guests in the studio have pointed out, began as a story, then became a play and then became a book. Here in the studio, John Glavin, professor of English at Georgetown University, Jillian Finkle of the National Children's Museum here in Washington and Maria Tatar of Harvard University, editor of "The Annotated Peter Pan" which, I must say, has got to have been the work of a lifetime, Maria.
TATARI -- not quite a lifetime, but I spent many weeks at the Beinecke Library reading the 19 linear feet of papers left by J. M. Barrie, and also by the Llewellyn Davies family, a fascinating experience. It was there that Barrie really came to life for me. I never imagined that all of these papers could be animated by his spirit, but it was just a matter -- it took only a couple of days before that happened.
REHMInteresting. All right. Let's open the phones to Flushing, New -- Michigan. Good morning, Sandra.
SANDRAGood morning, Diane. Love your show. Thanks for the voice of civility that you bring to radio.
SANDRAMy daughter is appearing in the Flushing High School theatre department's Trevor Nunn version of this story in a couple weeks. And I was reading through the program to look for a line -- or in the script, excuse me -- to look for a line to put in the program. And what I discovered was that -- I realize we're talking about the book, but what I’m interested in is why did Barrie seem to have so much trouble translating the book into a play, the obvious points of stagecraft of the era aside.
SANDRABecause what I discovered from reading was that he spent about 20 years trying to adapt the story to the stage. And I'm curious what your experts have to say about that.
GLAVINWell, it actually begins as a story and then it becomes a play. And then the play leads to the novel. So it's the play that opened into the novel, not the other way around.
SANDRAOkay. I guess I was confused about the number of revisions he seemed to make to the play over 25 years that he never seemed to be satisfied with quite the way it was working out and so maybe that would explain it that the novel came second.
GLAVINWell, you know, there are no solid scripts for plays. Now one of the things -- the theater's always adapting a script in order to make a certain kind of performance possible. So it's not a question of being dissatisfied. It's having a different cast, a different size theatre, different kind of audience.
TATARThat's exactly right. The first performance was in 1904. Barrie then did not write the play down until 1928. So there was this element of constant improvisation and so many different versions and drafts, which are -- many of which are at the Beinecke.
FINKLEI think one of the things that makes the play so amazing is that it's based on real life. It's based on the real play of real children. And capturing that I'm sure was very difficult, though I think Barrie's probably the world's best that's ever lived at doing that. But you can imagine that trying to put down what it was -- has been so important to you. I mean, this was his entire life, these boys. And trying to capture that correctly and make it perfect, he was rewriting it 'til the last minute before the play opened and kept on changing it forever really.
REHMSandra, thanks for calling in. Good luck to your daughter in that play. Now to Silver Spring, Md. Good morning, Rachel.
RACHELYes, hi. Thanks for taking my call.
RACHELI was very lucky to have inherited or been given at a very early age and eventually got to keep a first edition of "Peter and Wendy" as well as "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens." And you answered the question that I had about -- originally had about the order of how things were written. But I was always curious about this separate book "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" which is a similar story, but it's not the same one. And I don't remember how they came out first.
RACHELPeter and Wendy, however, which is such a gorgeous book and it's huge and I've rarely ran into anybody who's actually seen this -- or read this huge book which elaborates so much on the smaller story we know. So I was just wondering if you could sort of explain how, you know, was "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" the first version of it and then the play (unintelligible) ?
REHMAll right. Let's see, Maria.
TATARThat was an early draft which was excerpted from another book called "The Little White Bird." So it's an enormously complicated story. What is fabulous though is about the edition that you have, is that it must have the illustrations by Arthur Rackham, which I was able to...
RACHEL(unintelligible) absolutely incredible illustrations (unintelligible) ...
RACHEL...I'm 51 and I first saw this when I was about 12. And (unintelligible) ...
TATARAnd I was so happy...
RACHEL...my grandma let me keep it, yes.
TATARYes. And those illustrations are reproduced in my book, not quite as large as the ones that you have but how lucky you are.
REHMI should say. Hold on to that, Rachel. Thanks for calling. You know, one thing that you mentioned early on, the themes of fear and violence. And one aspect you didn't mention is the undertone of sexuality, which comes out in "Peter Pan." What do you think about that, Jillian?
FINKLEI know it's been discussed at length, some people wanting to ban the book because of those undertones. But -- or even discussions that Barrie might have had perhaps inappropriate intentions with the family. I personally do not think that was true. I think that's really a normal part of childhood is exploring yourself, exploring life. And, I mean, we could debate the age of the children exactly but I think it's normal to be wondering about that. You know, Wendy wants to be something more to Peter, but...
REHMShe doesn't know quite what.
FINKLEWell, she probably doesn't though she's still hurt that he doesn't feel that way to her. You know, that he doesn't want a kiss as she understands a kiss. But I personally don't see anything inappropriate in that.
GLAVINWell, I think there's also an element of an ongoing Victorian culture in the book. The British Victorians especially really saw the coming on of sexuality as the end of something. Beginning with the Romantic Movement where the child is father to the man, there is this notion that as you grow, you lose. So, for example, at the end of the Alice books, the other great children's books of the 19th Century, we see Alice dressed in white lying on a bed. And it looks as though she's a corpse, but in fact, it's her wedding bed.
GLAVINAnd so there is this belief in staying in the betwixt and between, trying to keep children stationed in that middle world before the gain, but also the loss that sexuality comes into their lives.
TATARYes. I love that, the betwixt and between is exactly the term Barrie used. What is astonishing is that the girls, Wendy, Tiger Lilly and Tinkerbelle are all flirts, whereas Peter Pan, as the stage directions tell us, can never be touched. So there is always the distance. And the kiss then becomes problematic because, of course, that's the point of contact.
REHMExactly. All right. Let's go to Moorhead City, N.C. Good morning, Andrea.
ANDREAGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
REHMSure. Go right ahead, please.
ANDREAI was hoping you'd ask the question. Sorry. The reason that I called in is I just loved -- sorry, I've not read the play -- or seen the play and read the book but I just loved "Hook." And of course that was just Robin Williams, you know, playing "Peter Pan" and I love Robin Williams, I'll just tell you. And Julia Roberts was Tink and Dustin Hoffman, that I love also 'cause I'm 59 years old, I'm that generation, was Hook.
ANDREAAnd to me, very quickly I'll just say, lost childhood is what comes to mind, lost childhood and the implications of lost childhood for today when Julia Roberts said, fly, Peter, fly. And that's all I want to say. I want to hear what you have to say.
REHMI'm glad you called, Andrea. Go ahead, Jillian.
FINKLEWell, I think childhood is certainly the theme of the book if you could choose one. And Peter representing eternal childhood not growing up, whereas, you know, the other children are bound to grow up by returning home at the end. You know, I think "Hook" is a wonderful movie. I love it myself and it certainly, you know, but the main character being Peter Pan who has grown up, definitely explores that theme as well.
REHMAll right. To Pensacola, Fla. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEGood morning, Diane. Could I ask how you spell your last name? I've always wondered.
REHMIt's R-E-H-M like Mary.
ANDREAOkay. I'm -- I wondered, you haven't -- I don't believe you mentioned Mary Martin yet, but I've always wondered, well, did she do the movie version also? And was there any debate about having a woman play the part of Peter Pan when the play first started? I've always been a little -- thought that was a little strange, but I know for practical reasons it probably was a good thing. And she did a wonderful job of it.
TATARIt took years for a man to play Peter Pan. It -- originally women took that role.
TATARIn part because of labor practices at the time. You -- it was such a large role that you had to have an adult there. And a woman could mimic a boy more easily than...
REHMAnd she could be lighter than perhaps a man.
TATARAnd I look at Mary Martin now and I think, oh she does look boyish. But I do remember seeing Mary Martin in that role and being deeply disappointed that a woman was...
TATARI love Peter Pan and it seemed so odd to me.
REHMTo have Mary Martin in that role, Jillian.
FINKLEIt was also the style at the time. It -- pantomime was very popular and there's a role in the traditional British pantomime of The Boy, which was played by a woman. So even though Barrie did not want, originally, the role played by a woman, it made sense that it would be just historically.
REHMSo Mary Martin played the role on Broadway...
GLAVINIn the musical.
REHM...in the musical. And what about the film that came afterwards?
TATARThere was an early silent film in 1924 and Peter Pan was played by a girl in that version. So that continues. And in, let's see, some of the recent films Peter Pan has been played by a boy.
REHMCourse the animated film by Disney, it's sort of hard to say, John...
GLAVINI just want to say about the Disney film. The thing that fascinates me is the way Americans -- the way Disney saw Tinkerbelle as the property to take away from that story. If you think about the Disney icon, the Disney icon is not Peter, it's Tinkerbelle. And I think there's something about the difference between American models of boyhood and British models of boyhood there.
GLAVINOur guy is Huck Finn who can't wait to grow up to be a man. And when you take this mythology and you try to map it over an American audience, I think Tinkerbelle is the one you keep and Peter is the one who moves into the background.
REHMAll right. To Marjorie in Utica, N.Y. Good morning.
MARJORIEGood morning. I wanted to make a comment that you sort of touched on with the sexuality, but I just wanted to add after listening to the previous callers that I also saw Mary Martin and was deeply disappointed because I had the hugest crush -- the first crush of my life was Peter Pan. And my parents took me -- it was such a treat and then I was devastated. But he has always been kind of my first love.
MARJORIEBut what I wanted to talk about was not as light as that. I had read quite a few years ago, and I don't remember the name of the book and I apologize, but I read about -- I read a review of a book where they said that at least one, maybe two of the Davies boys later committed suicide in their either late teens or early 20s and that there were rumors at that time of pedophilia. And I was wondering if your author had come across any letters or anything that would indicate that.
TATARThere is not a shred of evidence that there was anything improper in the relationship of the boys and Barrie. In fact, Peter Llewellyn Davies left a diary in which he made that quite clear. There had been suspicions of this and he wanted to make sure that everyone understood that Barrie had been completely open, forthright and generous in all of his interactions with the boys. It is true one died in the trenches. Another committed suicide at school. It was a double suicide, a drowning.
TATARAnd then tragically Peter Llewellyn Davies, who described Peter Pan as that terrible masterpiece, threw himself under a subway train in London. He was suffering from emphysema. His children and his wife had terminal illnesses so he was deeply depressed but what a terrible end.
REHMWhat about Barrie himself? Did he ever marry?
TATARHe was married to Mary Ansell, a beautiful actress, very talented. They divorced after a rather public -- well, the divorce was quite public. The affair was with a writer -- Mary had an affair with a writer. And Mary later told friends that the marriage had never been consummated.
FINKLEI think it was Nico, the youngest of the boys that described Barrie as an innocent, citing some of that same evidence.
GLAVINNo, same thing. The sexuality in the book is obviously completely wrapped up in Barrie's own very ambivalent attitudes toward his own sexuality. But there's never been any suggestion that Barrie was other then heterosexual.
TATAROr deeply repressed in every way and we just don't know. Sometimes, you know, since there is no evidence I think trying to knock on that door just becomes a problem.
REHMYeah. Is there anything in the letters, in the writings of Barrie to indicate that he acknowledges that he is either impotent or simply not interested in sex or what?
TATARNo. He never writes about his sexuality.
REHMHe does not.
TATARNo, he doesn't.
REHMYeah, okay. To Fredericksburg, Texas. Quick comment, Ann, before our break. Ann, are you there?
ANNDid you say Fredericksburg? (unintelligible) ...
REHMI sure did. Go right ahead, please.
ANNOh, all right. I have an adult daughter who has turned out to be a PhD sociologist. But when she was going to kindergarten, all of a sudden she was put on the school bus with the older children. And I told my husband, I said, this is going to be the end of Santa Clause, so we were braced for that reality. And one day we were driving someplace, just Margaret and I, and she said, mama, do you know there are children on the school bus who don't believe in Santa Clause? And I gripped the wheel especially hard and I said, oh really? And she said, yes...
REHMI'm afraid we lost the...
REHMAnd I'm so sorry I had to cut you off in the middle of that wonderful story. Your daughter got on the bus and her friend's teased her and said there was no Santa. And what did she say?
ANNShe said I believe he's like Tinker Bell. As long as you believe, then he's really there.
REHMIsn't that a beautiful story?
ANNAnd don't you know, she grew up to be a sociologist.
ANNWhat could she have done?
REHMSounds just right to me. Ann, thanks for calling. Let's go now to Chris in Vienna, Va. Good morning to you.
CHRISGood morning, Diane. Thanks for this wonderful program.
CHRISI have a question for your panel. I happen to have an early copy of the "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens," the book. And I was wondering if your panel would have any idea of the value of it. It was printed in 1913 and it has the original color plates with the drawings by Arthur Rackham.
TATAR1913 is not a first edition, but with the original color plates, I have a feeling you are talking in the neighborhood of 50,000. But I am not a book dealer, so...
REHMAnd we're not the "Antiques Roadshow." What can I say?
CHRISOkay. I'll do my homework elsewhere then.
REHMOkay. Thanks for calling. And, John, you wanted to talk about Kensington.
GLAVINI just want to say for people who like "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens," there's a wonderful revision of that novel by the great British 20th century novelist, Iris Murdoch, called "A Word Child" in which she takes up the story of "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" and rethinks it in very contemporary terms. So if you like the Barrie, you should certainly read the Murdoch.
REHMAll right. To Sarasota, Fla. and Sara. Good morning, you're on the air.
SARAWell, good morning. I thank you for taking my call and I love your program.
SARAI love the fact that there is recognition of how the story evolves and is so very culturally and socially based. I'm almost 70 years old. I grew up in a family deeply and tragically touched by the Holocaust. I grew up speaking three languages, bringing English home to the family and also speaking Yiddish and Hebrew. Anything related to Christianity was discouraged. I was not allowed to read things like "Peter Pan." I did not know there was such a thing as a Holocaust until I was in my thirties 'cause it was never discussed. I'm still -- it's still too big for me to comprehend. And it's taken me this long to finally start to come to terms with things.
SARAAnd even when I pick up a book like "Peter Pan," things that are so deeply entrenched related to the suppression of any impulse to try to reach for something that is not related to Judaism is still very strong. So I try to push through it and I'm gonna try to read "Peter Pan." And I remember, I don't know when I first had contact with it, maybe in the school library or someplace, just the difference in tone. The fact that here are different children who look different from each other, they represent different ways of life, that gave me hope.
TATARThat's a wonderful comment and I think that you do have to keep in mind "Peter Pan" is Pagan. We can all be Peter Pantheists. And he takes us away. We are able to have a moment where there's lack of gravity, where, you know, we can meet others in this magical place. We can watch children there. And I always like to think of it as a contact zone for adults and children.
REHMHere's a tweet, "Please ask about the effect that Barrie's brother's death had on his relationship with his mother and its effects on his work." Maria.
TATARBarrie's brother, David, died in an ice skating accident on the eve of his 14th birthday. And at that moment, Barrie lost his older brother. He also lost his mother who retreated into the bedroom with David's christening robe, stayed there for an entire year. She finally came back because Jimmy impersonated...
REHMJ. M. Barrie.
TATAR...J. M. Barrie impersonated his brother, David. He put his hands in his trousers pocket and began whistling as his brother had. And at the end of his life, the last play that Barrie wrote was "The Boy David."
REHMWhat a story. Jillian.
FINKLEOh, I think the relationship between Barrie and his mother and his mother's grief for her lost child certainly affected his entire life and all of his work and his own personality in grave ways. And I think without that, I don't think he could have written "Peter Pan."
REHMInteresting. Here's an email from Rebecca who said, "When I started reading the original a few weeks ago to my four-year-old, I was stunned about how much violence there is in the book, also how odd Peter Pan is when they're flying to Neverland. Peter Pan goes off to talk with a star. And when he returns, he does not recall Wendy and the children. What age is recommended for this book?" John.
GLAVINI think all ages are recommended for the book, as long as we suspend a certain set of cultural assumptions about what stories children want to hear. I think all fairy stories and all original children's stories tend to have an enormous surprising amount of violence in them. And part of what children want is to have the violence tamed by the story.
REHMAnd Maurice Sendak does that...
GLAVINSame thing, same thing.
REHM...absolutely perfectly. What do you think?
TATARYes. Neverland is not a safety zone.
TATARBut there is a safety zone at home. When you're reading the book with a child, you are in that safe place. And, you know, if a child doesn't like the book, don't read it. Wait until they're ready for it. Some children deeply need melodrama, violence, all those things, action and adventures. Others are less inclined to enter that world. But they'll be ready for it at some point.
REHMAnd to Fort Wayne, Ind. Good morning, Katie.
KATIEGood morning, Diane. I'm so grateful for your gift of fair discussion. I'm very honored to be talking to you right now.
KATIEAnd I will try very hard not to babble. My son, William, is nine months old and we, my husband and I, just finished reading "Peter Pan," what I think is the full story now, to him about a couple of months ago. Sometimes it would be a paragraph, I'm sorry, a paragraph before he was ready to go to sleep and sometimes two or three pages I could get through. Well, we finally finished it and I was incredibly struck by J. M. Barrie's -- his lack of dumbing things down for children. And I was wondering if you could comment on that, first of all, how much modern literature will use words like pluperfect and just proper grammar.
KATIEAnd he even like -- he'll say when he uses improper grammar, he'll say, now, this isn't the way you're supposed to say it, but that's the way Peter said it and I think we should too. And, yeah, also like Rachel, I was also incredibly shocked by the violence and I was kinda grateful I was reading it to my son as a baby. It'll probably wait a few years before he's to read it himself.
KATIEI'll take your comments of the air. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling.
TATARI love the fact that he's developed a taste for books at nine months. And I'm wondering whether he's actually biting the book, but, yes, the fact that we have a narrator who can't decide whether he's a child or an adult, who's also a betwixt and a between. Sometimes he's addressing adults and sometimes children. And, again, this is why the book becomes a meeting place.
GLAVINAlso I think there's a difference in the way in which 19th century children were raised than the way children are raised now. Children were kept silent until they could speak to adults. Adults didn't speak down to children. Children had to learn an adult voice in order to be heard. And so it's not surprising that children in the Llewellyn Davis house would've learned a word like pluperfect if they wanted their parents to pay attention.
REHMAll right. To Columbia, Md. Demetrius, good morning.
DEMETRIUSGood morning. When I was in psychology, we touched on Barrie briefly. And I believe he suffered from social dwarfism. And listening to you guys, it occurred to me that he must've had extreme levels of anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, inferiority complex. And I think a lot of that came through, just jumped out of the pages to me. And I was wondering what your guests though about that.
REHMWhat do you think, Maria?
TATARHe was five foot, two, which is actually not that short, but he does refer to the fact that life would've been much easier for him had he had a few extra inches. But he was actually a very social fellow. He belonged to many clubs. He was rector of a major university. He gave speeches all the time. So I would say he did fit in.
GLAVINCan I say one other thing about Barrie that I wanna make sure we say? He assigned all the royalties from "Peter Pan" to the Children's Hospital on Great Ormond Street in London and it remains a major source of income to that hospital.
REHMReally. Because the book continues...
REHM...to be a best seller.
TATARAnd I'm happy to report that the royalties are being shared with the hospital.
TATARHad a wonderful relationship with the staff there.
REHMThat's great. To Keith in Pinehurst, N.C. Good morning.
KEITHGood morning. And one of the previous callers touched on this, but I'm a grief counselor and have done a lot of work in the area of grief and creativity. And it's not uncommon it seems that when a child has an early loss, it really propels that spark of creativity that carries them on throughout life. C. S. Lewis was another one. And I just wanted to get your panel's comments about that.
REHMWhat do you think?
GLAVINThere's a famous book by Edmund Wilson, the English -- the American critic called "The Wound and the Bow." And he says that writers identify their talent, the bow, with their wound. And they believe that if the wound were to be healed, they'd lose access to the bow. And I think that's a recurring theme in many writers.
REHMBut, you know, I don't think it's just writers. I think many creative people, whether they're painters or writers or broadcasters, are affected in that same way. Jillian.
FINKLEI think it's actually said, especially musicians, that once they get out of their twenties and they're not angry anymore, that that's why they are no longer successful, they can no longer write with that power and that emotion that they once felt.
REHMAll right. To Syracuse, N.Y. Good morning, Terry.
TERRYGood morning, Diane. How are you?
TERRYExcellent. I'm actually just calling to find out -- I have been an avid fan of "Peter Pan" throughout my entire life. I was in the show several times and I read the sequel "Peter Pan in Scarlet" and so on. One of the major questions I have is one of the most powerful lines to me is to die is the greatest adventure. I guess my question is, does your panel have thoughts as to how that reflects Barrie himself or why that would be such a poignant piece to the puzzle of Peter Pan?
FINKLEI think we talked about it a little earlier how Peter Pan would never grow up. If he would grow up, he would die. And, you know, we're talking about mortality itself being such a theme in the book, especially looked at in the historical context that the end of childhood means the beginning of the end.
REHMA kinda -- yeah.
TATARAnd I think it's important to remember that for two years that line was eliminated during World War I. During two of the war years it was not included. Death was not an awfully big adventure.
GLAVINAnd it's connected I think to Hook's insistence as he's about to die on dying in good form. There's this whole question running through the kinda structuring of masculinity in the 19th and early 20th century about always showing good form, especially under pressure.
REHMJohn Glavin and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." It really is quite a line though, to die will be the greatest adventure. It reflects not only perhaps the end of childhood, the heroism of hook as he's about to die, but it's a thought for life, somehow ongoing. There's almost the underlying wish for the promise of heaven.
TATARYes. And, of course, "Peter Pan" was what gave Barrie immortality in a way, the boy who could not grow up. He is the child that remains forever young.
FINKLEI also think in one of the film adaptations they switch it around a bit and say to live is such an awfully big adventure. It's one of my favorite pieces of "Peter Pan" adaptation that ever was.
TATARAnd I love the fact that we keep rewriting the story...
TATAR...and making our own versions of it.
REHMI wonder -- but I wonder how J. M. Barrie would've felt about the changing of that line.
TATARHe was constantly rewriting and improvising how...
REHMBut he was doing the rewriting.
TATARNo. Actually, sometimes the actors on stage were taking it in new directions. And after all, it was created through a collaboration with the boys through games.
GLAVINAnd you wonder about the effect of it. You know, the great theatrical producer, Daniel Frohman who produced the play was on the Lusitania. And although he was in leg braces and people offered to help him into a lifeboat, he refused to go into the lifeboat before other people did and drowned on Lusitania. So you wonder about a kind of cultural -- a whole culture being summed up by Barrie in that line.
TATARAnd he is said to have used those words on the boat.
REHMAnd then Paul, one of our listeners, writes in with his favorite quote, "I'm youth. I'm joy. I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg." Maria.
TATARI'm you -- I'm joy, you know, I think immediately of Hook who is just the opposite, the grownup. And that is, you know, the clash, the contest between boy and man, the man who has grown up.
REHMJillian, last word.
FINKLEOh, I was just looking at an expanded version of that quote I came across. "Who are you, Pan? I am eternal youth. I'm the sun rising. I'm the poet singing. I'm the new world. I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg. I am joy, joy, joy."
REHMWhat a way to end this wonderful conversation. Thank you all. Jillian Finkle of the National Children's Museum, John Glavin, professor of English at Georgetown University, and Maria Tatar, chair of the Program in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University, editor of the newly issued "The Annotated Peter Pan." Thank you all.
FINKLEThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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