- Peter Pan at 100
The wide range of interpretations in this collection mirrors Peter Pan's own infinite variety: born in J. M. Barrie's 1902 novel The Little White Bird, he returned in the 1904 play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up—novelized in 1911 as Peter and Wendy (later retitled Peter Pan)—and resurfaced in 1928 when the play was finally [End Page 226] published. As a result of Barrie's incessant revisions, Peter and his story underwent numerous transformations, many of them discussed in this book's fifteen essays (sixteen counting the introduction). The book is divided into four sections: five essays contextualizing the Peter Pan story in its Edwardian era, two on "Peter Pan in America," six on the book's "timelessness and timeliness" (from video games and androgyny to a Lacanian Peter as "maternal phallus"), and two recent feminist approaches. Peter Pan speaks to us in ways Barrie never dreamed of.
Following a very fine editorial introduction that uncovers the (critically neglected) origins of Peter Pan in the popular Victorian pantomine genre—Harlequin Peter, Pantaloon Hook, Columbine Wendy—the first essay examines Peter Pan in the context of Victorian and Edwardian schadenfreude and "outright hatred of otherness." The author contrasts Peter Pan's jouissance to Captain Hook's "good form," arguing that "Hook represents our societal need to manage our general hatred of children." Then comes an essay on the play's affinities with Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (like Dorian, Hook is "an example of unethical and failed aestheticism") and Walter Pater, the play asserting a Paterian "reiteration of life in its variance, as being constituted from moment to moment as all that there is and has been and will ever be." The next essay deals with the Edwardian cult of the girl child, where Wendy, Tinker Bell, and Tiger Lily create "a paradoxical construction of femininity: corrupted and corrupting, victims of vicious attack and agents of degenerative (and violent) adulthood." The section closes with an essay on pirate lore—Hook's origins in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance (1880) and R. L. Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883)—and one on fairy lore: Peter as "fertility god and fairy lover"—other essays also pause to interrogate satyrlike Peter's mythic origins—in Peter Pan and two other Barrie plays, Dear Brutus (1917) and Mary Rose (1920).
The next section opens with a linguistically challenging essay examining, via Derrida, how Barrie "encodes the native Neverlanders with deconstructive meaning, articulating them as graphemes within a pedagogy designed to problematize racialist categories." The author concludes that Barrie "advances a pedagogy that disrupts drives toward normalizing conventional racial categories as pre-discursive and natural by emphasizing their rhetorical and artificial origins." The second, longer essay seeks to demonstrate how Willa Cather drew upon motifs, imagery, symbols, metaphors, and characters from Peter and Wendy for her novel The Professor's House. Although the premise is interesting [End Page 227] and the essay well documented with examples, not all parallels are totally convincing.
The third section contains essays on the contrast between the illiterate Peter and Hook the raconteur (orality vs. print literacy); on how Barrie's story is successfully retold in video game form such as Kingdom Hearts (despite Wendy's reduction to a damsel in distress); on the ambiguities of Peter Pan as an "unstable and irresolute" text, due in part to Barrie's constant revisions; on Peter Pan "as a cultural trope for signifying resistance to narratives of heteronormativity" in his questioning of "the binary distinctions of late Victorian/Edwardian heterosexuality"; and on the influence of Peter Pan on J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. The last and most provocative essay in this section uses Lacan's psychoanalytic theory to explain how Peter exhibits "the clinical structure of a psychotic … someone who is trapped in the imaginary order," concluding that Peter...