Peter Pan

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Peter Pan
Cover of the 1915 edition. (Illustration by F. D. Bedford)
Original Title: Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up
Written by: J. M. Barrie
Central Theme:
First published: 1911
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Second to the right, and then straight on till morning.
The original directions Peter gives to Neverland (although it turns out there isn't really a 'direction' as such. He just gets there. He only gives these directions to sound clever to Wendy.)

James M. Barrie was a prolific writer at the turn of the 20th century, but his most-beloved works are his 1904 play and novels about Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up and lives in Neverland, a Magical Land. He has a feisty fairy Sidekick in Tinker Bell.

One spring evening, Peter follows his wayward shadow into a young girl's bedroom. When Wendy Darling fastens his shadow back on, Peter invites her to come and look after his Lost Boys, similarly ageless kids who (like him) lack a mother.

Wendy and her brothers, John and Michael, fly away to Neverland, where the boys have many adventures while Wendy mothers them. Finally, after a climactic battle with Peter's archenemy, the Pirate Captain Hook, Wendy decides she's had enough of Neverland. Peter agrees to let her go, and to let her take her brothers and the Lost Boys with her. Twenty years later, Peter Pan returns for Wendy's daughter Jane, and the adventures begin anew.

Peter Pan is a Trickster, only nominally human. In Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Peter is alluded to as being half bird; as all children in fact come from birds, but only Peter is close enough to his youth to remember being a bird. In Neverland, he is more like a playful demigod, with aspects of Puck and Pan. The character has become something of a cultural symbol for youthful exuberance and innocence, especially if it persists into adulthood; it also evokes the poignant flip side - never becoming truly mature. Michael Jackson identified with the character so much he named his estate (with an amusement park, et. al. on the grounds) "Neverland Ranch". The darker implications of eternal youth and perpetual irresponsibility is likely why a well-remembered 1987 film about teen vampires was called The Lost Boys.

Also in the 1950s, a successful Broadway musical version of the story was launched; live TV broadcasts of it with Mary Martin as Peter were ratings winners, and this version is frequently staged in US theaters great and small to this day. An unusual quirk of most stagings of the play and musical, going back to its original productions, is that Peter is traditionally played by a young woman instead of a preteen male actor.

Between licensing by Great Ormond Street Hospital (who still holds certain rights in the UK) and the expiration of copyright in most of the world, there are clashing Sequel and Prequel books and films. In addition to the 1953 Disney film and a 2002 sequel, there was a 41 episode Anime adaption as part of the World Masterpiece Theater series in 1989, the 1990 animated series on the first season of Fox Kids, Steven Spielberg's Hook (1991), a sequel that posits what would have happened had Peter eventually decided to grow up, and a 2003 live-action adaptation. See also Finding Neverland (2004), a Very Loosely Based on a True Story drama about Barrie's conception and initial production of the play.

For various major adaptations, see

Peter Pan is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in Peter Pan include:

Tropes from all or most adaptations:

  • Acting for Two:
    • Traditionally in the stage play and musical, and in the 2003 movie, Captain Hook and Mr. Darling are played by the same actor. In the Disney version, they still bear a resemblance, and are voiced by the same actor. Interestingly, J. M. Barrie wanted Captain Hook to be played by Mrs. Darling's actress, but was evidently overruled.
    • JMB didn't really intend a message from the dual roles; it was mostly to get more use out of a single (rather good) actor, who'd otherwise be sitting around for half the performance.
      • Actually, it may be intended to make a point as Hook is, in the book, described as being somewhat feminine, as Barrie envisions all pirates to be. It is something to do with Hooks intuitiveness at times.
      • From the first book, chapter eight: "In his dark nature there was a touch of the feminine, as in all the great pirates, and it sometimes gave him intuitions."
      • Effeminate pirates, eh?
      • Helloooo, sailor!
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty: "Second to the right", not, as in the Disney version, "Second star to the right".
    • As a result of Disney's adaptation, most adaptations have Neverland be literally a star, when it was not in the original novel.
  • Betty and Veronica: Wendy (Betty) and Tinker Bell (Veronica) for Peter Pan with Tiger Lily as the Third Option Love Interest.
  • Big Bad: Captain Hook.
  • Broken Masquerade: Neverland, pirates, fairies.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Tinker Bell.
  • Compressed Adaptation: While the novel has the children in Neverland for weeks, if not months, most adaptations cut the duration of their stay in Neverland down to a single night and day.
  • The Croc Is Ticking: Trope Namer
  • Crosscast Role:
    • In just about any theatrical or film version, Peter was played by a woman, until the 2003 version came in.
    • Disney's Peter Pan had Peter voiced by a boy, Bobby Driscol.
  • Dawn Attack: In Neverland, all attacks take place at dawn. Captain Hook is considered a vile scoundrel when he has his pirates attack before dawn, when nobody's ready.
  • Damsel in Distress: Wendy, Tinker Bell, and Tiger Lily are all captured at one point or another.
  • The Edwardian Era: If only by default.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Hook. (And, in the Disney movie, Smee—although in the original, he didn't know what a mother was).
  • Fairy Tale
  • Friendly War: The Lost Boys and the Indians take turns attacking each other as a game. It turns serious in the Disney version when the Chief accuses the Boys of kidnapping Tiger Lily, who was actually taken by Captain Hook for the purpose of trying to get the location of Peter Pan's hiding place out of her.
    • In the Disney sequel "Return to Neverland", Hook tells Jane that his relationship with Peter is this. He's lying.
  • Growing Up Sucks:
    • The Lost Boys.
    • Deconstructed in the Hook movie, as the happy memories that the now adult Peter won as he grew up are what restores his ability to fly.
  • Heroic Sociopath: Peter Pan.
  • Hook Hand: Take a wild guess.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: Hook is always seen to be decked out in his finest in all the adaptations.
  • Lost in Imitation: Tons. In many adaptations and spinoffs, nobody ages while on Neverland. Yet in the novel it's clear that people do age and grow to some degree - the Lost Boys arrive as infants, after all, and Peter "thins them out" (which knowing Peter, is probably lethal) if they seem to be growing up. For more example, see the page on Disney's Peter Pan.
  • Living Shadow: Peter's shadow is alive and tries to escape. Wendy sews it back on.
  • Minion with an F In Evil:
    • Mr Smee. So. Very. Much. The original book goes into great detail about how pathetic-but-loveable he is.
    • Though he's still willing to tickle the kids with Johnny Cork-screw if the situation demands it. More than one critic has pointed out that, viewed in a certain light, Smee is deeply frightening in that he's an innocent simpleton who is completely sanguine about murdering children.
  • Neologism/Newer Than They Think: The name 'Wendy' was not commonly recognized as a viable name for a girl before this book.
  • Never Grew Up: Trope Namer.
  • Never Smile At a Crocodile: Guess who...
  • Noodle Incident: Hook's origins. Barrie wrote, "To reveal who he really was would even at this date set the country (England) in a blaze." Future tellings reveal he attended Eton College, although the records were destroyed to prevent further scandal.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Hook towards Pan. This wasn't as much so in the beginning. Hook saw Pan as another annoying child, but after his hand was fed to the crocodile it became personal.
    • Peter, for his part, has made all the Lost Boys promise to leave Hook to him.
  • Pajama-Clad Hero: The Darling children wear their PJs throughout their adventures.
  • Pirate: Naturally, Captain Hook and the pirates.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Well, they do quite a few things within the story, but no actual piracy.
  • Puff of Logic: This is how fairies are killed.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • Captain Hook usually doesn't die in most versions.
    • In the novel, fairies have extremely short lifespans and Tinker Bell died of old age not long after the Darling children's adventures. This is changed in any adaptation that takes place after the Darling children return home.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Is it Tinkerbell, Tinkerbelle, or Tinker Bell? The Kingdom Hearts series uses Tinker Bell, and so does the new Disney movie that centers around her. It's likely that Tinker Bell is the official spelling, as it is spelled that way in the original novel.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The Crocodile, after eating Hook's hand, liked the taste so much that it has constantly pursued Hook ever since, hoping to eat the rest of him.
  • Team Mom: Wendy.
  • Walk the Plank
  • Wicked Cultured: Captain Hook.

Tropes mainly from the novel or play:

  • Accidental Murder: Averted; the Lost Boys think Wendy is dead after Tootles shoots her, but she's really alive.
  • Alien Sky: Neverland has "ever so many more" suns and moons than the Mainland.
  • All Myths Are True: The furnishings in Tinker Bell's room are dated according to fairy tale character names - EG, the mirror is a Puss-in-Boots and the dresser is a Charming the Sixth.
  • Alternate Continuity: From Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
  • Ambiguous Innocence:
    • The defining characteristic of children, according to the novel—and of Peter Pan in particular—is that they are "innocent and heartless." Peter Pan laughs as Wendy's siblings nearly fall to their deaths and in general lives up to his last name. He even attempts to convince Wendy that her mother abandoned her.
    • It just goes to show the downside of innocence; namely, a lack of knowing right from wrong and Moral Dissonance. Innocent doesn't necessarily mean 'good.'
  • Audience Participation: The clapping to save Tinker Bell in the stage version.
    • Such a famous example that it extends even to the book sometimes—people reading it aloud to little kids encourage them to clap at the same point in the story. The main character's younger sister and her mother are shown doing this in the movie ET the Extraterrestrial
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Hook certainly feels this way. He carries poison around with him in case he's taken alive, and in the play, when he senses that death is imminent, he tries to blow up his entire ship.
  • Book Dumb: Peter is an extreme example—he's loaded with mysterious knowledge of magical things, but is absurdly "ignorant" of everything mortals regard as normal.

Not one of them could fly an inch, though even Michael was in words of two syllables, and Peter did not know A from Z.

  • Born Unlucky: Tootles, as described in the narration.
  • Canine Companion: Wendy keeps a wolf cub as a pet on Neverland.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The Trope Namer, used to revive Tinker Bell of Captain Hook's poison.
  • Clueless Chick Magnet: Peter.
  • Coming of Age Story: For Wendy. She leaves Neverland because she realizes that her relationship with Peter can only be a shallow imitation of the adult life she really wants.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Mr. Darling gives one of these to himself after the children fly away because he chained Nana in the yard. He vows to trade places with Nana and live in her kennel until the moment the children come back—even having the kennel loaded onto the cab every morning and riding it to work.
  • The Fair Folk: Fairies in the books are notoriously fickle and love playing tricks on people. Peter Pan is the only one they don't mess with.
  • Fisher King: Peter is this to Neverland. The land wakes up when he arrives, and reflects his mood. The 2003 movie adaptation showcases it prominently.
  • From Beyond the Fourth Wall: Why did the crocodile's clock stop ticking? The author says we stopped it. Then Barrie later says that he might tell Mrs. Darling that the children are coming back, but that she would essentially be angry at us for spoiling the surprise.
  • Generation Xerox: Wendy's daughter, Jane, sees Peter weeping on the nursery floor and addresses him with the words, "Boy, why are you crying?" They proceed to go through dialogue highly reminiscent of Wendy's with Peter. This might be justified in that Jane has often heard the stories of Peter Pan from her mother and is implied to be rather Genre Savvy. Note that she also shares some traits with her uncle Michael, complaining "I won't go to bed!" in the same way he complains about being bathed at the beginning of the play and book.
  • Heroic Sociopath: See Ambiguous Innocence. During the climactic fight against Hook and his crew, Peter actually attacks both sides in order to keep things "interesting."
  • Honor Before Reason: The Piccaninnies' codes of honor prevented them from taking strategic moves that would have saved a fair number of them from being slaughtered by the pirates.
  • I Call It "Vera": The pirates seem to do this a lot. Smee's cutlass is named "Johnny Corkscrew", the ship's cannon is called "Long Tom", and the plank is called "Johnny Plank".
  • Killed Off for Real:
    • In the original book, Hook is eaten by the Crocodile at the end.
    • In fact, all the other pirates died except Smee and Starkey, who ironically is implied to have drowned in the film.
    • Averted in some pretty bizarre early drafts of the play script, which had Captain Hook make it out of the crocodile and head to London to hunt down Peter and Wendy.
    • Tinker Bell.
  • Meaningful Name: "Tiger Lily" is a pretty apt name for a Tsundere - aside from being the name of a real flower, it combines a vicious predator with a beautiful flower.
    • Oddly enough, this is averted with the Lost Boys—Peter named them (well, except for Slightly), but their names make absolutely no sense, even in context. It's possible that Curly might have curly hair, but this is never stated. (Peter Pan In Scarlet goes ahead and states that Curly's hair is curly.)
  • Multiple Choice Past: Due to Neverland's nature, the book states that Peter's Freudian Excuse of Parental Abandonment may not have really happened how he remembers it, if at all.
    • In the prequel Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Peter's mother lost him very much against her will. He could have chosen to go back to his mother but he kept putting it off because he was having so much fun among the birds and fairies, even though he knew his mother must have been missing him. By the time he had finally resigned himself to giving up his freedom, his mother had had another baby, and to prevent this one from becoming lost as well she had had bars placed over the nursery window. She must have believed Peter was lost to her forever. Tragically, the bars prevented Peter from coming back in, and so the two were forever separated.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Yet another reprise of the pirate's Villain Song gets interrupted when Peter kills Bill Jukes.
  • Name and Name: The book was originally published as Peter and Wendy.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Even after gaining celebrity through riding to work in Nana's kennel, George Darling gets no respect from the maid, Liza. In fact, her respect for him actually lessens.
  • Oblivious to Love: Wendy, Tiger Lily, and Tinker Bell all have a crush on Peter, but Peter is so immature he can't see a female as anything other than a mother figure.
  • Oedipus Complex: Despite Wendy and Tiger Lily's obvious sexual/presexual interest, Peter regards his relationship with Wendy as a mother/son one. Furthermore, Peter manages to get Mrs. Darling's "hidden kiss"—a symbol which the 2003 film promptly renormatized as romantic between Wendy and Peter.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: Tinker Bell.
  • Pet Baby Wild Animal: Wendy's not-so-imaginary abandoned wolf cub. (The wolf is only mentioned twice, but it's obviously meant as an example of Wendy's penchant for nurturing lost wild things—including the Lost Boys and Peter.)
  • Poison Is Evil: Captain Hook carries a bottle of poison everywhere with him (to be used as a suicide drug in case he's taken alive), and employs it to kill Peter Pan.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Piccaninnies.
  • Public Domain Character: Except in England.
  • Tsundere: Tiger Lily.
    • Tinker Bell, too. As a fairy, she literally only has room to experience one emotion at a time, but those emotions are strong.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Skylights the pirate, who is killed solely to show Hook's method of dispatchment.
  • Servile Snarker: The Darling's sole servant, Liza, toward the end of the play. Granted, her master was living in a dog kennel at the time, so he was practically begging to be snarked at.
  • Shout-Out: Hook describes himself as "the only man whom Barbecue feared, and Flint himself feared Barbecue". Captain Flint was the pirate captain in Treasure Island, and "Barbecue" was the nickname of his cook—Long John Silver.
  • Trickster: Peter Pan.
  • Vague Age: Probably intentional. The book states that Peter has all of his baby teeth, yet all of the female characters have (or develop) a crush on him. Even so, Peter is too immature to notice.
  • Villain Song: The pirates, especially Hook, have a habit of bursting into song:

Avast, belay, when I appear By fear they're overtook
Nought's left upon your bones when you Have shaken claws with Hook

  • We Are as Mayflies: Inverted in the novel - fairies have short lifespans, short enough that at the beginning of the book Tinker Bell hasn't yet reached adulthood, but a year later she's most likely reached the end of her natural life. Of course, none of the adaptations have the heart to kill her off so soon.
    • Played straight with Peter's lifespan in comparison to those of mortals; he'll probably be picking up Wendy's descendants and taking them to Neverland until the world ends.
  • Westminster Chimes: In the play, quoted in "Tender Shepherd".
  • Yandere: Sweet, sweet Tinkerbell....wants to kill Wendy for clinging to Peter Pan.
    • Somewhat justified in that Tink is a fairy, and thus too small to experience more than one emotion at a time. She's either a perfect angel or an utter demon, and when she's jealous, well...
  • You No Take Candle: The Piccaninnies talk this way.

Tropes from the authorized sequel, Peter Pan In Scarlet:

  • Acceptable Breaks From Canon: For a sequel to be written under the terms supplied by Ormond Street Hospital, there had to be a few of these. Geraldine McCaughrean described it as taking out a few stitches.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Turns out that putting on someone's clothes makes you become more like that person.
  • Back from the Dead: Tinkerbell, who died in the original book, is in the last third of this one resurrected thanks to Fireflyer.
  • Big Eater: Fireflyer, the newborn blue fairy, is always hungry and will eat anything, including musical notes.
  • Bus Crash: Michael died in the war during the time skip.
  • Catch Phrase: Fireflyer, whenever he thinks he's not getting enough attention, will inform everyone that "Fairies die if people ignore them!"
  • Continuity Nod: Quite a few, sometimes even bordering on Continuity Porn.
    • On at least two occasions, Peter tells everyone that nobody's allowed to touch him—this is taken directly from the original play, where he in their first scene together tells Wendy that "No one must ever touch me," and during the course of the play no one does.
    • John is a patriot to the extreme, which is a nod to the fact that his motivation for refusing to be a pirate in the original book was that he would no longer be subject to the British Crown.
    • Slightly in the original book is mentioned to make flutes and whistles for himself and make up tunes to play. This is brought up and expanded upon here, as he's taken up the clarinet and his musical talent plays an important part in the plot.
    • Captain Hook is revealed to have been at Eton College. This was hinted at in the original play,[1] and confirmed by J. M. Barrie, it in a speech he gave at Eton in 1927.
    • In one chapter, Wendy tells Peter and the Lost Boys a story about a little white bird in Kensington Gardens. This is a Shout-Out to Barrie's book The Little White Bird, which featured the first appearance of Peter Pan.
    • The Crocodile is revealed to be female. In the original book, the narrative does refer to the Crocodile as a "she" in the first scene it appears (the rest of the book uses "it").
  • Continuity Snarl: Despite all the Continuity Nodding, here are a couple of really noticable contradictions here. Some, as mentioned, are seen as Acceptable Breaks From Canon, while some seem a little off:
    • In the original book, it was explicitly stated that Peter cut off Hook's right hand. In this book, probably influenced by all the adaptations, it's stated that it was Hook's left hand that was cut off.
    • It's stated that nobody can fly without a shadow, but this contradicts the first book, where Peter is perfectly able to fly after he's separated from his shadow. (Then again, the character who states this is Hook, and nobody really sets out to prove him wrong -- he may have been lying.)
    • The fate of the pirates is completely different. In the original book, all of them except Smee and Starkey are killed in the final battle. Here, Smee and Starkey are still the only survivors, but the other pirates are mentioned as having been given leave to go fight in World War I, and never returned. It is, of course, possible that Hook was talking about a different crew, but it still doesn't fit the original timeline very well.
    • Confusingly, both Smee and Starkey are referred to as having been Hook's "first mate." Reading the original book, it's Starkey who is the real first mate; Smee is the bo'sun.
  • Damsel in Distress: Tootles.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Turns out the twins are named Marmaduke and Binky. Subverted in that the twins themselves don't find the names embarrassing at all, but are just thrilled that they finally know their real names.
  • Gender Bender: Tootles, for the entire book, after putting on his daughter's ballet dress to magically become young again. (He has no sons). In typical Neverland fashion, he quickly forgets his past life, including the fact that he was a guy in the first place, and becomes girlier even than Wendy. Things get pretty awkward when he decides, like every female character, that he wants to marry Peter.
  • Killed Off for Real: Michael. But not Hook.
  • Love At First Sight: Fireflyer and Tinkerbell, sort of. Fireflyer is revealed to have developed a crush on Tinkerbell long before he even meets her, thanks to Sightly's stories about her, and it's his wish that eventually calls her back to life.
  • The Power of Rock: Or should we say, rhythm and blues.
  • Spin Offspring: Averted with the human characters (though Wendy's daughter Jane appears a few times, and children of other characters are mentioned, though not by name). Played straight with "Puppy", a descendant of the original Nana, who joins the adventure.
  • Self-Proclaimed Liar: Fireflyer claims that he never tells the truth (but this is confirmed to be a lie).
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Averted with Fireflyer, who's mostly in the story as a replacement for Tinkerbell, but beyond being the "token fairy" he's almost nothing like her, being an over-enthusiastic, gluttonous Motor Mouth and liar who befriends Slightly rather than Peter.
  • Took a Level In Kindness: Bratty, vain Slightly became extremely sensitive during the time skip. It's possible to infer that he was softened out by misfortune, as Tootles was in the original; the book and play imply that he was taken down a peg or two after the boys left Neverland, and by the events of Peter Pan In Scarlet his wife has died, leaving him with no children.
  • The Villain Must Be Punished: Normally the selfish and heartless Peter sees fighting Hook as a game. Then Hook nearly kills Tinkerbell with a poison meant for Peter, and kidnaps the Lost Boys as well as the Darlings. Peter, in his coldest voice, whispers, "Hook or me this time" and goes for one final showdown.
  1. when his final words are "Floreat Etona", the College's motto.