12 May 2011


Character Connection 25

Let me begin by admitting that it was probably a good thing I lost this post last "Friday the 13th." =P It wasn't one of my best.

My problem while writing it was that I knew what I thought of the mother I had decided to feature . . . and if I might say so, they were wonderful thoughts . . . but I didn't like the way they were turning out as I wrote them. That's why I'm actually grateful for this second chance to get it right. The following character analysis might still be far from perfect, but at least it manages to be better.

Mrs. Mary Darling
Peter Pan
by J.M. Barrie

Of course [the Darlings] lived at 14, and until Wendy came her mother was the chief one. She was a lovely lady, with a romantic mind and such a sweet mocking mouth. Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover, there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the righthand corner.

The way Mr. Darling won her was this: the many gentlemen who had been boys when she was a girl discovered simultaneously that they loved her, and they all ran to her house to propose to her, except Mr. Darling, who took a cab and nipped in first, so he got her. He got all of her except the innermost box and the kiss. He never knew about the box and in time stopped trying for the kiss. Wendy thought Napoleon could have got it, but I can picture him trying, and then going off in a passion, slamming the door.

Whatever is a grown woman doing in a book about the one boy who shall never grow up?

Oh, we know what the grown man is doing there. It was likely Mr. Darling who kicked off that irreverent convention of children's storytelling which makes fathers look as ridiculous as possible--and boy, did he set a high bar! He represents everything children hate about adults: doubly so in the stage version, where we see him played by the same actor who portrays the villainous Captain Hook. If the choice were between stern paternal authority and "gay and innocent and heartless" Pan-daemonium, then every child would fly off to Neverland--where grown men may be killed for crocodile meat instead of unquestioningly obeyed--and never come home at all!

And yet most children do return home. At least the ones in this story do. (Oh, dear. Was that an awful spoiler?) For there is one advantage home will always have over Neverland--and we see this perfectly represented in the romantic figure of Mrs. Darling, whose "sweet mocking mouth" has a kiss in it that nobody can ever seem to get.

You're probably familiar with Wendy's trouble in getting Peter to give her a proper kiss--and later on, an actual commitment. (LOL!) But that was nothing compared to her frustrated attempts to get at her mother's elusive kiss. And it is clear which one Wendy would rather have.

There are many wistful thoughts about children who grow up, move away and have lives that their parents cannot always share . . . but not nearly as much about parents who were once young and whose lives were full even without their beloved children. There will always be one last box in our parents' characters that we will never be able to open--something that shall always be theirs alone. But if we are anything like Wendy, we always go back and keep trying. And then we become so thoroughly distracted that we don't catch ourselves growing up.

Well, yes, before the story ends, someone does manage to claim Mrs. Darling's kiss--and I'll bet you know who it is. Perhaps if it had mocked him as well and refused to be taken away, he wouldn't have flown back to Neverland so carelessly. He might even have come back to try for it again. And then he might have decided to stay for as long as it would take, never noticing the widow barred behind him this time, and grown up in spite of himself. But no . . . Mrs. Darling lets him take the kiss and "seems satisfied."

So what is a grown woman doing in a book about the one boy who never grows up--a boy who repulses her on sight, afraid she will only make a man out of him? She is saving the whole story: she is letting him stay young.

Image Source: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie


IntrovertedJen said...

I did read the original version, I just couldn't comment. I'm glad Blogger has us both up and running again!

They are both wonderful posts, as always, but you are right that you caught a little extra something in this one.

I have to confess that I have never read Peter Pan. It is on my nook and I have seen the Disney cartoon and one or two other adaptations.

I like what you write about never knowing your parents. It's hard to conceive of our parents before we were--well, conceived, right? In our selfishness, we believe that their lives must begin and end with ours. Mrs. Darling and her kiss show that for the false belief it is, don't they?

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, if I had to lose one of two versions, I'm glad it wasn't the better one! (*knocks on wood . . . just in case!*)

Peter Pan is one of my favourite children's classics. It's perhaps too sentimental for some, but I like the way J.M. Barrie mixes storytelling and artistry. There's always something new to discover. For instance, the parallel between Peter's "thimble" and Mrs. Darling's kiss didn't jump out at me until the night before I had to write this post (the first version, at least). I really recommend it. =)

Jillian said...

When I wrote a post on Mother's day about memorable moms in literature, I should have included Mrs. Darling.

Your last quote about her letting her kids stay "young" sums her up as a mother, imo. Not a lot of parents do that and I think that's what makes her so likable.

Enbrethiliel said...


I guess Peter is officially one of her kids, then! =)

Her sentimental philosophy of child rearing is probably not the best one for our own age in which people in their twenties still act like teenagers and teenagers still act like children, but it must have been very beautiful in the respectable and proper Victorian era.

Risa said...

I wonder...have you ever seen this movie called "Drop Dead Fred"? It's about an 'imaginary' friend who comes back to his last 'real' playmate - a girl all grown up and about to be married - only to find that she has changed, naturally. She can still see him because there's a part of her that still is child-like. It's sad the way they try to not let go of each other but at last she just HAS to GROW UP! The movie ends with a little child talking to his imaginary friend, Fred, and though she can't see him any more, our heroine know it's him.

I think, this could so easily be Mrs Darling's case. She knew Peter once, when she was a little girl. It's probably why she believed her children when they said they knew Peter. Even Wendy's daughter and grand-daughter become Peter Pan's playmates! Perhaps, Mrs Darling, the grown-up, represents the distance there is between childhood and adulthood?...how much a child does change?...

Enbrethiliel said...


Yes, I've seen Drop Dead Fred! =D And I remember that ending! It's probably the only part of the film I really, truly like. =P It perfectly captures the wistfulness we feel as adults, watching children at play, knowing we were once like them but that we will never be so again.

So I love the idea that Mrs. Darling herself has known Peter Pan, but unlike Wendy, has forgotten him and has to be reminded who he is again. It certainly adds more poignancy to the "passing" of Peter from Wendy to Jane, and from Jane to Margaret. We readers see only Wendy's story, in the same way we know only our own childhoods. Those who are younger and older still get to keep their secrets.

Thanks again for coming by and reading these old posts of mine, Risa! =)

Risa said...

WoW! I love the way you've put it! - with us being Wendy and so knowing the story while her mother and her daughter retain their mystic air of knowing Peter Pan...

Risa said...

P.S. - As I've mentioned before, I've been enjoying our discussions.:)

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Risa! I've been enjoying them, too, and am now extra excited about getting to read Sense and Sensibility with you next month. =)