A Sequel to Peter Pan?

Apparently the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity has decided that there should be a sequel to J. M. Barrie’s masterpiece Peter and Wendy. The book was written in 1911, based on a play released in (I believe) 1904 and also written by Barrie. It’s an international classic. Who hasn’t heard at least some version of the story about Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up? The book is a jewel, one of my absolute all-time favorites. It is full of imagination and fun, topped off with a healthy dose of pirates, indians and mermaids. What more could any kid (or honest adult) wish for? The story is self-contained, so I’m not sure how a sequel would work. Disney did a reasonably good job at it with their movie “Return to Neverland” (much to my surprise), but even that had some serious short-comings and didn’t even come close to the magic of the original story.

The GOSHCC has held the rights to the story since Barrie “donated” it to them in 1928. They have benefitted greatly from this gift, as you may guess. There have been a number of movies, many many publications of the book, many stage productions, and a large number of “spin-off” productions in every media out there. Nevertheless, they have apparently decided that they could do with more money from the sale of a new “official” book. So they are auditioning authors. The official statement can be read here.

I have some serious reservations about this. First of all, they are deliberately trying to create a classic. Every time I’ve seen someone attempt that, it fails. Classics are almost always unintentional. So I’m rather worried about that. I’m also concerned about their statement that the story will “be placed in a contemporary setting” (quoted from the official statement). If Neverland exists essentially outside of time (in the minds of children everywhere and everywhen), then what is the point of setting it now other than to plunge the story into the mess that is adult thinking on the appropriateness of everything in children’s books? I mean, if Peter and Wendy had been written today, can you even imagine the uproar it would have caused? There are indians (native Americans) who are portrayed as rather savage and uncivilized, there are pirates that randomly kill each other, there are cruel mermaids, there are children trying to kill each other (and nearly succeeding)… I mean, you publish something like that now and your book is going to be burned on every street corner no matter now many experts say it’s wonderful! And yet it works beautifully in Peter and Wendy. The book is incredible. Barrie didn’t worry about stereotypes or violence, probably in large part because of when and where he was living and writing. The book has been read and studied for so long now that people have realized that it isn’t horrible for the things I mentioned. Modern publications get little such consideration. Look at Harry Potter! Nevertheless, Neverland feels real. It manages that because Barrie really knew the way children think. Talk to a four year old the next time you get the chance. Barrie’s statement that Neverland is really just a map of a child’s imagination is dead on, even today. I remember playing pirates and “killing” my little brother, how about you? Yet children today are not supposed to think about such things (despite the fact that children do think such things and likely always will – read Bettelheim if you want more detailed discussion of this). We don’t really care what children do think when discussing books, we just care what we want them to think. So why try to write a sequel to a book that really gets it when you know that either the sequel is going to miss the point and not have a prayer of holding up to the original or it is going to be crucified hourly? I don’t see why we need to do that to Barrie’s wonderful wonderful wonderful book! It’s such a gem, why try to write a sequel? Why don’t we focus on trying to write new stories that get it just as well without causing international incidents?

Then again, maybe GOSHCC will pick a genius who will write a fabulous book with all the magic and wonder and meaning of Peter and Wendy that won’t get burned. Maybe. I really hope so, but I have trouble believing it’s going to happen.

Why can’t we just celebrate classics as they are without poking them with sharp sticks all the time? Flaming sharp sticks?

*sigh* Oh well. Sorry for the long rant. I just felt like sharing this bit of news and my opinions on the matter. That’s what blogs are for, right? At least, that’s what Michael keeps telling me…

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