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Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1804 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Compare the stage version of PeterPan (1904) with the film version (2003). What might the differences between them suggest about changing constructions of childhood and ideas of growing up over the intervening one hundred years?

To do this, you will need, in the first part of your essay, to consider how childhood is represented in the original Peter Pan. One way into this would be to ask whether the original Peter Pan is equally ‘about’ boyhood and girlhood, and what it has to say about both in relation to childhood and adulthood. You are then in a strong position to consider how the twenty-first-century version comments on and revises this construction. You will find this exercise in comparison much easier to carry out if you concentrate on one or two comparable scenes in the play and the film – perhaps the opening scene in the nursery, in Act 1. You will need to make detailed reference to the play text and to specific shots or sequences in the film. You may also wish to contextualise your conclusions in relation to the Disney film.

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Use Hollindale (mostly last section), and Rose.

It could be argued that there is never a new story when it comes to novels, plays, or films as recurring traits and themes are repeated and have become recognised formats through time (e.g. Propp 1984 [1928]; Uther 2004). Storytelling can be dated back as far as 2000-13000BC (Pellowski, 1991). Stories are usually told as if in they are in the here and now, with different slants to the original tale ensuring they are not repeated verbatim. Zipes observes that storytelling that of the Neo-traditional kind, should be both magical and subversive enabling children the opportunity of exploration of both, themselves and the world (2001, 141).

Storytellers rely on a variety of semiotic resources in their approach to literature using shared conventions and codes such as vocal characteristics, body language, and even music. For communicative systems, they have additional resources: such as cinema, advertising, and clothing in an aim to communicate with an audience. Bearing these criteria in mind this essay will examine the difference between the stage version of Peter Pan (1928 [1904]) with the film version (2003).

Let us consider the lifestyle of the author of the literary immortal Peter Pan. James Matthew Barrie was born in the Scottish mill town of Kirriemuir on the 9th of May 1860. Up to the age of six, Barrie led a reasonably normal life, albeit being in the shadow of older brother David who his mother adored. Unfortunately, David was killed just before fourteenth birthday in ice-skating accident leaving his mother devastated, for her David would always remain a young boy in her mind. In an attempt to console his mother, James tried to become David in her eyes, which he failed to achieve. David’s death had a profound impact on the young James’s physical development. It is thought that he might have suffered physically from what is known as psychogenic dwarfism (Wikipedia, 2009), which can be brought on by extreme emotional deprivation or stress. Psychologically the outcome of this traumatic period left James in emotional limbo, trapped in an improbable world, torn between childhood and maturity.


The stage play of Peter Pan (1928 [1904]) is set in Victorian times as is the film, both are full of fantasy and beauty. The inspiration for Peter Pan was from Barrie’s elder brother David, The persona of Peter Pan is an amalgamation of the Llewelyn Davies boys, a family he befriended in 1897.

When Wendy speaks in the play, it is in adult voice, which could be said to appeal more to a mature audience. In the format of the play, Peter’s intentions are not clearly defined, apart from the fact that he does not want to grow up. Peter tries physically to drag Wendy to Neverland in the play, whereas in the film she wants to go. In Barrie’s time mothers were regarded as storytellers, these days both male and female are storytellers showing a changing construction of childhood.

The theatre-prop of fairy dust in the play had its downside as theatre owners were worried that children may open windows and try to fly through them like Pan. The London Ambulance Service requested Barrie add a line…‘so many children having gone home and tried it from their beds and needing surgical attention.’ Only the stage version tries to end as the book is written which is at the end of the play when some twenty years have passed, Peter returns and tries to encourage Wendy to return to Never Land with him when she points out that she is now married and has a child. He feels betrayed by her growing up.


The film of Peter Pan (2003) is a respectable adaptation of the stage play (1928, [1904]), being relatively true to it. Peter Pan is a fairy, fashioned on the god Pan. He can fly without the aid of ‘fairy dust,’ unlike the Darling children. In the film, Mr Darling is perceived as childish, unlike his alter ego Captain Hook. In the Disney’s DVD, he has been totally emasculated.

Wendy’s involvement in Peter Pan albeit play or film is a Bildungsroman, it charts her journey from childhood, to motherhood, and cumulates in her becoming an independent woman. In the film, she is portrayed as being an empowered modern girl who has a fertile imagination, and who aspires to be a writer. She is emotionally torn about leaving her parents to go to Never Land with Peter, but yearns for adventure, besides Peter has stirred something inside her that she felt very excited.

Wendy knows from listening to her parents talk to her aunt, that one of the joys of adulthood is to know the pleasure of a powerful kiss. When Wendy finally reaches the utopian world Never Land, she is delighted to find it has no restraints and is free of adult restrictions. In addition, a surprising feeling is awakened in her, that of a rebel, she finds the thought of being a pirate dangerously attractive. In Barrie’s day, young girls were domesticated with mothers pre-training them for motherhood. In Never Land Wendy is enchanted by the naiveté of the lost boys (lost from their parents – caught by fairies) and eagerly takes on the role of a mother figure. The three women in the film are archetypical. There is Wendy who acts as a nurturing mother. Tiger Lilly is perceived as being strong and independent, and finally Tinker Bell, a mischievous spirited child. The film version is far more appealing to girls, crossing feminist boundaries between motherhood and the tomboy act of wishing to be a pirate making it more suitable for modern times. Wendy is a far stronger character in the film in comparison to the play. She wants a career as a writer, and takes part in sword fights with pirates.

It could be said that J. M. Barrie needed a figure of reality in Never Land, and chose Captain James Hook to act as a father figure. Moreover, Mr Darling could be seen as Barrie’s alter ego, and after the death of Barrie’s brother, the child from within him retreated to Never Land, where he never had to grow up, leaving Barrie back in reality to become an adult.

Whereas Peter Pan is a god and immortal, Hook is related to ‘Long John Silver’ of Treasure Island fame. In addition, Hook went to Eton and being mortal understands the quirks of human nature, which is how he is able to manipulate Wendy. Peter Pan and his arch-nemesis Captain James Hook are always fighting and is one aspect of youth vs. Adulthood.

Barrie writes of the link between Peter Pan and Captain James Hook in his notes for Peter Pan…Peter & Pirate Captain – “Proud & presumptuous youth” – “Dark & sinister man” &c, (Fairy Notes, Ref: 347, 1903). There is a Freudian theory that Peter if he should grow into adulthood he may well turn into Hook by means of an oedipal connection. The theory is that if Pan should kill Hook, he would then ‘turn into’ him, and become the ‘father’ to Wendy’s ‘mother.’ Another sign of oedipal can be observed in Barrie’s notes – he writes in his draft notes…Mrs Darling – The darlings – The Darling Mother, (Fairy Notes, Ref: 144, 1903). In conclusion, was it Barrie’s Freudian intention to keep mothers and girls separate from boys so that they could stay young forever? We are all aware that mothers force boys to grow into their fathers, was this yet another attempt at avoidance?

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Human nature being what it is, when we watch a film or play we can visually recall a scene from it years later. Moreover, as a narrator when we read text, we can remember the overall story but rarely can remember a complete scene unless it is exceptional one. During storytelling, there is always a narrator, whereas in stage drama there is not. A stage drama shows a story via its character actors, various scenes, or scenery set up. Sometimes a children’s drama will supply a narrator to explain the plot to the young. However, Barrie was one of the first break the cardinal rule that the audience is invisible, indeed he gets Peter Pan to interact with them by saying… ‘Do you believe in fairies? Say quick that you believe! If you believe, clap your hands!’ (Lines, 279-80), In the text of the BBC Radio play, Peter Pan says that no one must touch him… Peter…You mustn’t touch me… No-one must ever touch me (EA300, DVD 1). Yet in both the play and film, Peter is touched, bringing it more into the consciousness of today’s children.


Uther, H-J (2004). ‘The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography.’ Parts I-III Helsinki, Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Academia Scientiarum Fennica.

Pellowski, A. (1991), 2nd edn ‘The World of Storytelling.’ New York. H. W. Wilson.

Zipes, J. (2001). Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter New York and London, Routledge.

The Open University (2009) EA300 Children’s Literature, ‘DVD 1: no. 11, Peter Pan,’ BBC Radio Production, Open University, Milton Keynes.

Psychogenic dwarfism from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [online] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychogenic_dwarfism (Accessed 15th January 2010).

PeterPan, film, directed by P.J. Hogan, USA, Universal Pictures 2003.

Barrie’s “Fairy Notes” For Peter Pan (October 14th, 1903) http://www.jmbarrie.co.uk/peterpan/fairy/fairynotes.html

Birkin, A. (1979), J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys (London: Constable), p.162.


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