- Peter Pan's Shadows in the Literary Imagination by Kirsten Stirling
Early in Peter and Wendy, a closing window severs Peter Pan from his shadow. Several days later, Peter's return to find his shadow precipitates the major action of the story: the Darling children's flight to Neverland. In Peter Pan's Shadows in the Literary Imagination, Kirsten Stirling uses these shadows as a metaphor for Peter Pan's influence on literature. Besides examining the shadows cast by J. M. Barrie's iconic creation, Stirling also considers shadows cast upon Peter by events in Barrie's life, the author's previous works, and English pantomime. Another shadow that intrigues Stirling is the darker reading of Peter Pan available beneath the surface escapism of the story—a reading that contributes to the deep ambivalence she and other critics see in Peter Pan. As a unifying image, the shadow works well in this study of Peter Pan's importance to literature.
Stirling's primary focus throughout the monograph is on beginnings and endings because so much of Peter Pan's ambiguity stems from the lack of fixity both in Peter's origins and in the story's conclusion. In regard to beginnings, she considers questions of Peter's birth, both biographical and fictional, in Barrie's works and in prequels such as those written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. For Stirling, endings encompass all of Barrie's own attempts to write a conclusion for Peter Pan as well as later sequels by Geraldine McCaughrean and others. As Stirling writes, "These prequels and [End Page 97] sequels . . . often attempt to give their own interpretation of Barrie's texts" (4), and she is interested in what these additions contribute to the mythology surrounding Peter.
Chapter 1 explores the textual history of Peter Pan, tracing his origins through the privately printed photograph album The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island (1901), the adult novel The Little White Bird (1902), the play Peter Pan (1904), the novel Peter and Wendy (1911), and the final published version of the play (1928). Because all of the texts provide conflicting origins for Peter, the character remains ambiguous, unpredictable, and complex. Outside sources are mentioned briefly—Coral Island, Treasure Island, The Last of the Mohicans, for example—but Barrie's own texts are the main focus of the chapter. In particular, Stirling makes only brief mention of the Greek god Pan, whose contributions to Peter's creation are more important than she acknowledges. Stirling also proposes that Barrie's various attributions of authorship to the Llewellyn Davies boys and to actress Ela Q. May help construct a theory of storytelling as a collaborative act, which is reinforced in all the Peter Pan texts by means of storytelling acts performed by narrators and characters.
In chapter 2, Stirling extends a discussion begun in the introduction to J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan: In and Out of Time (2006) of the connection between Peter Pan and the English pantomime tradition. Stirling uses Barrie's notebooks and early drafts of the play to draw further links to pantomime. While agreeing with the editors of the earlier study that pantomime had a huge influence on the play, Stirling also points out some of the differences between the two. However, her primary intent is to examine character types to determine who best fits the description of pantomime hero and villain. She concludes that "Wendy and her brothers, together, occupy the role of hero more convincingly" than Peter (37), and Peter and Hook share the role of pantomime villain.
Despite her claim that Freudian interpretations of Peter Pan are problematic, Stirling relies upon one in chapter 3. Presumably this Freudian approach fits as part of the darker reading that shadows the text, yet it is an anomaly in a study supposedly focused on beginnings and endings. Reading Neverland itself as the unconscious, Stirling attempts to prove that "a deep-seated fear of female sexuality" is "the very basis of Neverland" (3). By naming either Wendy or Peter as the hero of the tale, we...