17 August 2010


Second Star to the Right and Straight On . . .

J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan was a great read for me last month. Blog-wise, I got a Character Connection post and a Locus Focus post out of it--and the "Neverland Notes" tab for related material, of which there has been a fair amount. For a while, this novel became kind of an epicenter for my thoughts about everything else I read and even some movies I watched. In case anyone was wondering, yes, I file this one under "good reading experience"! =)

By the way, this is the "future post" mentioned in the "I Love My Friends" Giveaway. That means that if your name is drawn, you can win a free copy of Peter Pan and one of the following titles. (I'll update the giveaway post with the links to the editions you can expect to win.)

3 Books to Read
in the Light of
Peter Pan

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald

Yes, after having put it off for several years, I have finally read the whole thing from cover to cover! And it felt like another several years, really. Let me be upfront now and say that I don't recommend this title unless you're a MacDonald completist or a Victorian literature buff. (Oh, wait. You're both? LOL! Perfect!)

I read it right after Peter Pan and was surprised to see so many common elements between them. In the beginning of the story, for instance, a child is lured from bed by a mysterious figure who can fly through the skies. Except in this case, the child is a little boy and the mysterious figure takes the form of a grown woman. It is interesting to juxtapose Peter Pan and North Wind, who do so many similar things but could not be more different--for while Peter is more like the eternally innocent boy Diamond, North Wind is more like Mrs. Darling. (If you read Barrie's novel again, you'll notice that Wendy is frustrated by the same quality of elusiveness in both Peter and her mother. But don't let me go on about that, or we'll be here all day!)

Both books also share the Victorian tendency to idealise chilhood as a kind of perfect state, and to link that concept with death. Of course, I think Barrie does a better job of turning these particular sentiments into a classic story--but that's just my totally excellent opinion. Suffice it to say, in the interest of objective comparison, that Peter Pan has only symbolic death but At the Back of the North Wind has a very literal one.

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

More flying now. When you think "flying children," you probably think of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys--but this modern series is putting up a worthy challenge, probably because it has lost girls as well. One of whom is actually the leader. A radical concept.

Now, the very idea of "lostness" implies that there is a seeker somewhere who can't find something. Indeed, Peter's darkest thought is that he is no longer lost because his mother has stopped looking for him--that there is now another little boy in his bed. Patterson's six winged children might have been raised by mad scientists in a complex they call "the School" (The Horror implications slay me--as does the satire), but they know they must have come from somewhere. That is, from someone. Two someones. Learning the truth about oneself always begins with finding one's parents.

But for every warm mother figure we just want to fly away home to, there is a father figure we just want to run away from. Barrie knew that, which is why, in his stage production of Peter Pan, the same actor plays both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. The Maximum Ride series has it own ambivalent father figure, a man whose very nature seem to lead him to betray the children who trust him to be fair to them. But learning to deal with unfairness just might be the first step toward true maturity. Something to ponder . . .

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit

A couple of years ago, I read a discussion thread started by someone who saw a connection between Tuck Everlasting and Twilight: both of them include a love story between a young man who will never die and a young woman who must choose between an immortal life with him or a mortal life without him. There are significant differences, of course, the main one being the fact that the first book is actually well written. (Yeah, cheap shot, I know!) Seriously, I do like the way the common theme is mirrored, in the reverse-image sense, in these books.

We have a similar connection between Tuck Everlasting and Peter Pan, although the latter is not a love story. Peter wants Wendy for himself forever--and if he had been more like Edward Cullen rather than wanting to be Wendy's "devoted son" for the rest of his days, he probably would have had her! But he changes his mind when he sees the sleeping Mrs. Darling, a real mother. Being a much better man than Edward, he knows that he must give Wendy up.

But it's not so simple in Tuck Everlasting, which deals not with eternal youth but with eternal life. Treegap is hardly Neverland. We imagine, with the same naivete as the Victorians, that children wouldn't mind being frozen in time forever; but there is something infinitely sad about the same fate befalling someone who is no longer "gay and innocent and heartless." And this time we have a Wendy figure who feels not just longing, but also love--the true love that always demands sacrifice. So . . . which life do you think she chooses?

Image Sources: a) At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, b) Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson, c) Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit


Sullivan McPig said...

Another great post and intriguing books.
I must say I love the cover of At the Back of the North Wind.
As for Peter's father and Captain Hook being played by the same actor: Hmmm, I never saw that connection before in Peter Pan. It is being used in Jumanji though, were the Hunter and the father are also played by the same actor and lets face it: Jumanji does have some Peter Pan themes (although here we have a grown man who still has the mind of a child.), so I should have known.

twowaysofrenouncingthedevil said...

I am ashamed to say I MacDonald is hard for me. More ashamed because my sister recommended LibriVox and I put North Wind on CDs for my 7 year old, and she now calls it one of the books she loves.
I like MacDonald because he seems to be in the tradition of believing fairyland is real-ish, but certainly not light or automatically benevolent. I like my fairytales spooky, of course.
I did love the Princess and the Goblin.
I read Peter Pan to my oldest probably five years ago, don't remember a word of it. . . guess it's time to go back. ..

Enbrethiliel said...


@ ully -- Jumanji is one o my favourite Family films EVER. I wonder why I never caught that. You're right! The father and the villain are played by the same actor. Excellent!!! I should watch it again, and maybe have another Three-egged List . . . "3 Movies to Watch in the Light of Peter Pan. =D

I love that cover of At the Back of the North Wind, too, which is why I use it in all my posts about the book. It's not my copy's cover, though, nor the one the winner will get if he chooses this option. =( Ah, well . . .

@ Marie -- This particular MacDonald book was hard for me! It's really preachy in parts, and he seems to lay on the allegory with a trowel. And sometimes there's more allegory than plot. =S But it was originally written as a serial for a newspaper, and it's reasonable to think that there were some weeks when he had to come up with a new chapter, whether or not it really moved his tale along.

My criticism aside, I'm charmed to hear that your seven year old loves it. It takes a lovely child to appreciate a book like this.

The only other MacDonald book I've read is The Princess and the Goblin. I love that one. =)

I didn't remember very much of Peter Pan when I reread it last month, so it was almost as if I was reading it for the first time. It was a strange, perfect blend of familiar memories and pleasant surprises.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

This is a book I've never read! Either one. How intriguing that you found connections between both of them, especially if they're not actually related in any way. Love when that happens.

Paul Stilwell said...

This is somewhat unrelated to your post, but MacDonald's "Complete Fairytales" has all his short(er) fairytales that have a certain swiftness to them without didactic intrusions (and where they are, they are minimal) or too-thick allegory. I recommend the book.

Enbrethiliel said...


@ Carol --I love looking for connections between books which don't seem related at all! This was how I was "trained" as an English major and it is how I will read for the rest of my life. Thanks or stopping by and leaving a comment. =)

@ Stilwell -- No worries. =) Thanks!