Last night we watched the new NBC version of Peter Pan. It was not the Mary Martin version I grew up with, or even the wonderful Cathy Rigby version we saw at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia many years ago. I couldn't pass up a chance to revisit James Barrie's tale of the boy who would not grow up.
The first broadcast of Peter Pan on television was in 1955 when I was a little tyke. I watched it then, and when it reaired in 1956 and 1960 I was glued to the TV screen once again. I always eagerly anticipated Peter Pan, along with televised showings of The Wizard Of Oz and Gian Carlo Menotti's opera Amahl and The Night Visitors.
In Sixth Grade at Northwood Elementary School I found all the children's classics, including Peter Pan and Wendy and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. I became a James Barrie fan.
What struck me reading Peter Pan at age 11 were the insights into the human experience. Peter is stranded on Marooner's Rock and the tide is rising and bravely faces death.
Peter was not quite like other boys; but he was afraid at last. A tremour ran through him, like a shudder passing over the sea; but on the sea one shudder follows another till there are hundreds of them, and Peter felt just the one. Next moment he was standing erect on the rock again, with that smile on his face and a drum beating within him. It was saying, "To die will be an awfully big adventure."
"To die will be an awfully big adventure." It set my attitude for life, that one line, that death is not something to fear. It is one more adventure, another part of life.
Peter is a child and yet a super-hero, a trickster, naive and boyish and yet a savvy and capable welder of a knife.
So, Pan," said Hook at last, "this is all your doing."
During the epic battle between Pan and Hook fifteen pirates perished.
"Seventeen," Slightly sang out; but he was not quite correct in his figures. Fifteen paid the penalty for their crimes that night; but two reached the shore: Starkey to be captured by the redskins, who made him nurse for all their papooses, a melancholy come-down for a pirate; and Smee, who henceforth wandered about the world in his spectacles, making a precarious living by saying he was the only man that Jas. Hook had feared.
Captain Hook I later learned was based on Charles II, with his swarthy good looks, black curled hair, and high 17th c style. Cyril Richard's Hook is my standard; he is large yet graceful, swarthy yet natty, evil without being terrifying.
It broke my heart was when Peter returns for Wendy to find her all grown up.
Then she turned up the light, and Peter saw. He gave a cry of pain; and when the tall beautiful creature stooped to lift him in her arms he drew back sharply.
I understood Wendy's aching for what she has lost.
It is scary to a child to think of being the adult, the one relied upon instead of being the one protected and cared for.
My Eighth Grade teacher Mrs. Hayden said that adults lost their imagination. That terrified me! My child world was make believe. My Midge doll was a boy from Mars. Nancy Ensminger and I pretended we were Scottish orphans riding ponies across the moors. Janet Leary and I were Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Mike Randall and I talked about outer space and believed in alien life. In Sixth Grade I invented Homer the Ghost, named for Homer Price of Robert McCloskey's books. Homer was my friend as I navigated a new social world after moving.
I wanted to be a writer. Nothing could be worse than losing one's imagination! If that was adulthood, I wanted to be counted out.
Fourteen came, and high school. I let go and grew up. I listened to rock and roll instead of musicals, put on lipstick, and went through the teenage angst.
But I never left Peter Pan behind.