Peter Pan Character’s and their Changes over time
Discuss two characters Peter Pan, Wendy Darling or Captain Hook .
This is a comparison essay. The core of the essay should be dedicated to comparing and contrasting the depiction of particular characters in Peter Pan. However, as part of your analysis it is important to explain why the character portrayals are different. Essentially, you are required to discuss both ‘how’ the portrayals are different and ‘why’. The latter has much to do with changing constructions of childhood and what is possible in children’s literature, as well as potentially the form, with changes from stage to screen, technical developments etc.
Note that you need to focus on main characters, so don’t try to develop an argument based on secondary characters such as Smee, Tootles or Tinker bell, for example. You do need to have more than one character, but don’t choose too many as you risk spreading yourself too thinly and producing an essay lacking in depth.
You must use the play text as the basis for comparison. Other versions are your choice and can include any rendition of Peter Pan for film or theatre. There are several in course materials, but also a fair few available on You Tube (including specific theatre productions) and other streaming services. If you are using a version outside course material, make sure to reference it appropriately (use the OU Harvard Guide) and contextualise it briefly for your reader. You don’t, however, have to use external sources as the versions provided in the module materials are sufficient to produce an effective essay.
Barrie’s life is interesting and there are many speculations as to whether the play contains autobiographical references. However, this assignment needs to stay focused on the text and its adaptations, so make sure not get side-tracked into less relevant grounds.
In analysing your chosen characters, you could consider some of the following questions:
In the original Peter Pan text, how does the construction of childhood of this period impact on the portrayal of the character(s)?
Looking at another version, to what extent is/are the character(s) different to the Barrie text? Can you connect this to the social context in which this later version has been produced? What does this suggest about changing constructions of childhood?
How might the form of the version being analysed impact on the portrayal of the character? [play versus film, for example] Are any technical developments relating to production significant?
Some useful quotes and information from module materials;
Although the first draft of the play was written between November 1903 and March 1904, the play text wasn’t published until 1928.
Between the first performance and publication, changes were made continuously: scenes were added and deleted, characters developed and revised. Sometimes this related to the social context such as the deletion of the famous line, “to die would be an awfully big adventure”, during WWI, or could be related to the strengths and weaknesses of the actor/actress taking on a role. However, Barrie also made changes which often appeared random, such as the one performance of ‘When Wendy Grew Up: An Afterthought’ in the 1908 season.
Watson (2009), commenting on the published version of the play, Peter Pan, suggests that ‘[t]he play-text as we have it is the play as Barrie wished us to see it in print, a reading version of the theatrical experience shorn of the technical limitations of the theatre’ (p. 143).
Other critics, most significantly, Jacqueline Rose, in her 1984 critique, The Case of Peter Pan: Or, the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction, a psychological study of Barrie’s work, have suggested that the continuous revisions and copious stage directions are evidence of Barrie’s inability to resolve the character of Peter Pan.
Here we see two different critical approaches to the play: the former based on the technical challenges of the work and therefore related to stagecraft and form; the latter focused on the role of the adult in literature for children, who the intended audience is. Barrie’s own history is also potentially relevant here.
J. M. Barrie is an author associated with the ‘First Golden Age’ of Children’s Literature, along with authors including Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame, George MacDonald, Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne.
First performed in 1904, the play was produced during the Edwardian era when the concept of the ‘Romantic child’ was at its height.
This, however, often blurred into a sense of nostalgia, a longing for the perceived innocence and simplicity of childhood. Marina Warner (1998) suggests, ‘the cult of the child often reflects adults’ dreams rather than children’s interests’ (p. 158).
As a theatrical spectacle, the play potentially offers the adult audience an opportunity for nostalgia, returning to a world of make-believe, where actions have few consequences. However, Barrie’s portrayal of his characters challenges the concept of the Romantic child: Peter is selfish, conceited and unkind, while the female characters are not innocent.
According to Greenhalgh (2009) ‘Drama […] offers an especially vivid and concrete record of the ways in which childhood has been understood, perceived, imposed and contested in different periods and cultures’ (p. 269). In relation to Peter Pan, it is a work that both supports the Edwardian ‘cult of the child’ in relation to the adult audience, while simultaneously challenging it, through the portrayal of child characters.
Are the extensive stage directions given by Barrie potentially an attempt to explain the complexity to his adult audience, by adding more detail not only about the different scenes, but also expanding on the characters.
During the latter decades of the nineteenth century, the impetus to keep theatre financially viable meant an increase in productions focusing on a ‘family audience’, especially around the Christmas period.
Greenhalgh (2009) describes these productions as ‘based around appropriate parts of the existing theatrical repertoire, such as pantomime, burlesque, fairy and folk tales, and magic shows, with theatricality based more on spectacle and musical and obvious moral lessons than subtleties of plot or characterisation’ (p. 274).
She places Peter Pan within this tradition: while conceding that Barrie has attempted to create a complex piece of theatre, because adults were regularly given the leading roles, it ultimately became another example of pantomime.
Donna R. White and C. Anita Tarr (2009) also position Peter Pan within the tradition of pantomime, tracing the relationship of the play with central figures from the history of pantomime and suggesting that the grandiose elements relating to set and staging are also part of this tradition.
In what ways does the theatrical setting impact on the portrayal of characters and how does this change when viewed through different mediums such as film, for example.
Peter Pan Character’s and their Changes over time
Barrie’s work in Peter Pan has received global appreciation and has sparked the interests of many for over a century. Many years’ later children and adults worldwide remain engrossed to the novelty as witnessed by the numerous films aired, the books sold, the Peter Pan characters featured in Disney world and the various creations that have resulted from Barrie’s work. The text contains some characters some of whom include Wendy, her siblings Captain Hook, Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Mr. and Mrs. Darling and the mermaids. This essay will provide a detailed overview of Peter Pan and Wendy in the original text and how their characters have changed over time.
Peter Pan is a magical and arrogant boy who never grows up. The book captures the character as both a fairy and a boy thus contains masculine traits and some un-gendered ones as well. The Disney film, however, captures Peter as traditional masculine as shown in his behavior and appearance. These changes were introduced to make the character relatable to the audience. Portraying him as a young boy with male tendencies relates well with a young audience as opposed to fictional fairy characters.
Mrs. Darling used to tell her children stories about Peter Pan which deeply engrossed Wendy who continued to entertain her brothers with numerous stories of Peter Pan. Pan’s stories prove that he existed for many years, but his thought process and behavior show otherwise. His childish tendencies, the need for adventure and a carefree life illustrate how child life was in that period. Children lacked any care and were only interested in a happy life with no responsibilities. Wendy and her siblings left home for Neverland in the middle of the night with no thoughts on how their actions would impact their parents. Such actions reveal the life of children which entails activities with no thoughts of the consequences. However, the statement by the author, death is a dreadfully big adventure, shows the monotony of Peter’s life. He enjoyed his carefree life and the ability to have experiences with minimal responsibilities, but it was boring to do the same things, fight the same battles and play the same games his entire life. The vagueness of Peter’s life is what prompted the author to capture that statement which was deleted during WWI as it came out as insensitive to the reality that people were experiencing at the time.
Peter’s character has since changed from the time Barrie wrote the book to the various productions featured in Disney. Barrie’s first depiction of Peter was more sadistic than the cartoon character that Disney has since featured. The text featured the young boy as a brutal, malicious, narcissist. Peter’s dark character was the reason why the earlier Peter Pan’s version lacked Captain Hook. The text already had a villain, and there was no need for another one. Disney later changed the character as he was too dark and sad for a young audience. They instead preferred a fun, happy and care-free character thus the amendments when filming. Nowadays shows and movies of Peter Pan make him relatable to kids. There are even plays and puppets of the character that are used to entertain children. Children would not relate to the initial version of Peter Pan had the producers not changed it. The show would have been too depressing and realistic for the young people.
The book’s final chapter is about Wendy and her growing up. The text contains a conversation between Peter and Wendy and how Peter expects Wendy to fly with him like the earlier days. Wendy is, however, a mother and has responsibilities that prevent her from making abrupt, carefree decisions. The chapter is quite sad and emotional especially when it dawns to Peter that things are not how they were in the past. Disney, however, fails to capture the sadness and reality of this chapter. They instead play a song that does not capture the sorrow that both characters are feeling. They changed the mood to provide more entertainment and lighten the mood. It features Wendy as a grown up with a husband and two kids. Her role seemingly ended after her maturity as she fails to feature in some Peter Pan movies. The name of the text even changed from Peter and Wendy to Peter Pan.
Disney captured Wendy’s character as lovable to draw a young female audience. The confusion and yearning for a better and more adventurous life and the choice to grow up and leave childish tendencies are shared experiences by most people. Nonetheless, Disney fails to capture the exact details of Wendy’s life to provide a show that is more enjoyable to kids, captivating and not based too much on reality. The films also fail to capture the monotony of Peter’s life. The text clearly stipulates that his life was a lonely one, stagnated and lacked real adventure. Peter’s life featured the same activities and the same feud with Hook. His life of not growing up was a tragic one. The films, however, depict his character as an adventurous one helping young children enjoy life in the Neverland. Some of these elements are what made it difficult for Disney to capture the text in film initially. The movie’s sole purpose was to provide entertainment that would interest a younger demography, and it did.
Production needs for entertainment, profit, and to capture more audience explains why the current Peter Pan versions are distorted, lacking a genuine picture of the original text. Billions are familiar with the Peter Pan adventures and activities but very few are aware of the original story that the author aimed at conveying. Moreover, few producers have captured the real story of Peter Pan. One of the few is Hogan’s and Goldenberg’s production of Peter Pan in 2003.
. The film contains a hint of sadness, shows the futility of Pan’s never-ending young life and Wendy’s trait as a wise and realistic young woman.
Barrie’s book and his stage directions portray Peter as an immortal who never grows, instead enjoys life’s adventures and provides the same experience to active children. He represents childish behavior, irrationality, insolence, and brutality. His life expresses the nostalgia of childhood. Wendy is tidy, considerate, nurturing and passionate. She willingly agrees to act as a maternal figure to Peter and the lost boys, which depicts her maturity level. Wendy represents women’s’ rationality and their acceptance to change. However, despite the representation of childhood nostalgia, the text shows how Peter’s routine is boring and tragic. It is fun to relive childhood but more adventurous to grow up and enjoy life adventures. Wendy’s character despite the maturity and motherly aspects yearns for a carefree and adventurous life.
The theatrical setting of Peter Pan captures a detailed account of the book. The theater makes children the focus and grants them the power to retell Barrie’s story. Theatre captures the characters emotions, their fears and the mood that the author intended. Other mediums such as films distort this by trying to catch items that are more captivating. These mediums incorporate technology and change some aspects to content that is more relatable to the intended audience. The theater better conveys Peter Pan narrative, where there are few alterations and the need to preserve the original story. Analyzing the various versions such as the book, theater, or films impacts the portrayal of Peter Pan characters. The original book provides the reader with a detailed account of Peter’s life and adventures. The theater captures the book’s essences in a more simplified and visual way. People can understand the characters upon watching the play. The film, however, uses technology to create new and different elements that are not in the book. Individuals who have watched Peter Pan movies’ have an entirely different version of the characters from those who have read or watched the play.
In conclusion, Barrie’s book Peter Pan contains
reality about life. The emptiness that results from a carefree life, the need
to grow up and the various issues that humanity faces all feature in the
original script. Many productions have risen from this book, but very few
capture the author’s message. The various versions have a need to create
productions that entertain a younger demography thus avoiding the somberness in
Barrie’s text thereby losing meaningful information.
 Monique Chassagnol, Isabelle Cani, and Nathalie Prince, Peter Pan (1st ed, Éd Autrement 2010)
 Peter Pan, Or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (P J Hogan 2003)