Inspired by a conversation with Wrimo YukiAme, on Friday I downloaded the original J.M. Barrie novel Peter and Wendy and read it that afternoon and evening. As a public domain book, it is free to download from Amazon Kindle and if you download Kindle for PC, you can read it on your computer. I also downloaded Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by the same means and finished it on Saturday.
For several years I had been unsure as to whether I’d ever read the original Peter Pan as a child. There are so many different versions out there floating around, as a quick search for the book on Amazon revealed. One of those was in my Treasury of Fairy Tales, a beloved book that was given to me by a friend of the family and which had abridged versions of many fairy tales, including The Velveteen Rabbit and The Twelve Dancing Princesses (my favourite), and illustrations. The version it had of Peter Pan was okay, but nothing special. Then there was the audio version, which was serialised on the radio and I remember that my brother and I were allowed to stay up late to listen to it in the evenings before bedtime. That might have been my first ever introduction to Peter Pan, or it might have been the Disney version. I was very young when I encountered both. The audio version was pretty faithful to the book, but I don’t think it was the same as the original text. At the end there were mentions of a bomb (I remember Peter saying the line, “I wonder if the crocodile swallowed the bomb, too!”) which I didn’t come across in Peter and Wendy.
But I remembered bits and pieces of a book that wasn’t any of the adaptations which I own today, and it makes me wonder when I owned that book and why I don’t have it any more. One part that always stuck out in my memory is when two-year-old Wendy runs to her mother and gives her a flower. I couldn’t remember anything which came after that, but this was sufficient evidence that I must have read the original novel at some point. As I read my way through Peter and Wendy, there were many familiar lines and passages – Michael’s flamingo with lagoons flying over it, for instance, or the bit where John says that if they keep flying they are sure to eventually end up back where they started, because the world is round. Hook’s cake with green sugar had stuck in my memory, probably because the idea of green sugar is such a strange one! Maybe that was a thing in the early 20th century. Then I came across this line:
“But with the coming of Peter, they are all under way again: if you put your ear to the ground now, you would hear the whole island seething with life.”
I read that and a memory suddenly came back to me, of lying on the floor of my room as a little kid and pressing my ear to the floor in an attempt to hear Neverland. This was pointless of course because my room was upstairs and all I could hear was the music room downstairs. I knew that at the time, but it was still fun to do it and imagine I really could hear Neverland.
I discovered upon re-reading that the 2003 live-action film was more faithful to the book than I had ever given it credit for, keeping much of the same dialogue, staging scenes the way they were described in the book, and cutting very little out. Even the romantic overtones between Peter and Wendy, though added to in the film, were much more present in the book than I had ever imagined. I streamed the film on Saturday and was able to appreciate a lot of little details I missed on previous viewings. I also don’t mind admitting that when I write The Neverland, I picture Peter as an older Jeremy Sumpter and Wendy as an older Rachel Hurd-Wood.
So what about Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens? Well, for anyone who is a fan of Peter Pan and hasn’t read it, I recommend it, especially as it’s free to download. I wouldn’t have thought to read it if it hadn’t come up in the Amazon search results, but it’s really interesting to see where the idea of Peter Pan originally came from and spot details and tropes that Barrie re-used in writing the Peter Pan play and subsequent novel. It almost works as a prologue to Peter’s story except for the fact that in his original version Peter is meant to be a week-old baby and wears no clothes, whereas in Peter and Wendy he’s somewhat older. I imagine him and Wendy to be about eight or nine.
After re-reading Peter and Wendy, I think I have a better idea of how the middle of the story is going to go. I was always pretty sure about how it would start and end, but the middle has always been sort of up for grabs. I also have a better sense of the characters, especially Hook, whom I’d probably forgotten the most details about. As research for Peter’s backstory, I’ve been reading parenting articles about gifted children and watching Channel 4’s documentary Child Genius (though the second series is irritatingly hard to get hold of…) Once I’ve finished and edited Peter’s backstory, I’ll put it up on here for people to read. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers for the main story in it.