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Refusing to Clap for Tinkerbell

It’s the 100th anniversary of the publication of Peter Pan, or something like it, and I spent an hour this morning listening to panelists on NPR sing its praises.

I would like to take a moment now to say that I hated Peter Pan as a child.

Still am not a big fan, honestly. I have mellowed and can appreciate it as a piece of literature of the era, can admire some of the more elegant bits and the narrative voice and all, but while children of all ages might have loved this book for a century, I can vouch for at least one particular child of about nine or ten who detested it in both book and movie incarnations.

It wasn’t the obvious reasons. It wasn’t that Peter is basically a freaky child-stealing weirdo lurking outside the house eavesdropping, who displays absolutely no concern for the well-being of those he steals—those are grown-up reasons, and did not enter into my consideration. Most kids don’t care about their parents being worried at home. It is not in their nature.  (Nor did I particularly notice the line that Brom pointed out in the intro to his book The Child Thief—it says that when there were too many Lost Boys, or they began to grow up, Peter “thinned them out.” As a child I accepted this without thought. It’s only as a grown-up that I realized that Neverland is gettin’ seriously Logan’s Run right there. Yeesh.)

And it wasn’t the violence. Various commenters on the radio expressed mild dismay at how violent it all was. Pfff. I was all for violence as a kid, and I would pack ten times as much into Dragonbreath if my editors let me get away with it, because I remember that quite well.  Unfortunately adults buy books for kids, and so you have to cater to the rather more prudish sensibilities of adults to write kid’s books, but them’s the breaks. The violence was fine.

Nope. What annoyed me the most was that Peter didn’t want to grow up.

Five years ago I would have started this next paragraph with “I may have been a strange child…” but I don’t think like that anymore—I suspect that my experience was, if not universal, at least fairly common, particularly among the bright and geeky among us.

I wanted to grow up.

Childhood, far as I was concerned, was for the birds. You were smaller and weaker and had no money and no power and no agency and you were stuck in school with people who were not very interesting, but whom you were expected to get along with because…err…you were the same age or something. (My mother, to her eternal credit, did not try to convince me that school was a glorious and wonderful experience and the best years of my life–she simply nodded glumly and said “Yep. College will be a lot better, I promise. Until then, just hang on as best you can.”)  I wanted no truck with childhood. As far as glorious Victorian ideals of innocence and wonder go, I felt that you could stuff it, although I was a very polite and shy child and would never have said anything of the sort.

Thought it a lot, though.

The notion that someone would not want to grow up struck me as the sort of idiocy that only adults would come up with. Bear in mind that most of my reading material at the time was Star Trek novels and Robin McKinley and Pern and The Hobbit. These were grown-ups, or close to, and they had problems like plagues and dragons and warfare and exploding dilithium crystals. I wanted to do THAT. Give me a sword or a tricorder or a dragon (preferably bronze, thank you very much) or at least a fire lizard, and you could keep your not-growing-up crap.

I also, during the course of the Disney movie flatly refused to clap for Tinkerbell, despite my grandmother nudging me. It was a movie. How dumb did they think I was? If it had been playing in an empty room with nobody watching, Tinkerbell would still magically get better. There was not an alternate nobody-clapped ending where Tinkerbell dies and Captain Hook has Pan keelhauled.* And bugger if I was going to clap just because the adults around me thought it would be an adorable expression of childhood belief. We’d fought that battle with Santa already, I was not losing the ground I’d won at so much cost.

Make that a polite and shy and cynical and grumpy child who would rather have been kicked than patronized…

(I have forgotten more about being a kid than I have probably ever managed to learn about being a grown-up, but one of the things I was resentfully aware of at the time was that a lot of grown-ups had this image of how kids were supposed to act and feel that had no resemblance whatsoever to the actual life of children. The company of other children is often more Lord of the Flies than it is the Bobbsey Twins, and there is a large contingent of adults who will get dewy eyed about the sweet little children playing so nice together and carefully ignore Piggy’s corpse lying off to one side. Small wonder so many of us wanted off the island as soon as possible… )

Captain Hook was the only character I respected. It is probably not a coincidence that he was the only significant grown-up.

The other really creepy thing about Peter Pan, as far as small, grumpy Ursula was concerned, was Pan’s memory.  That final chapter when it’s revealed that he’s forgetting everything, forgotten Tinkerbell, etc etc, was scary. Imagine losing track of your memory and your dearest friends and who you were and what you’d done. I saw myself wandering the tree houses and ruined ships of Neverland, writing thousands of notes and tacking them to every available surface—your name is Peter, you live here, you can fly, fairy dust is important, you killed a pirate, you had friends once and here are their names…

Peter, being a dumbass, did not even go mad and memoryless in what I considered the correct fashion. I would have written notes. And nobody was nearly concerned enough about Tinkerbell.






*I would have been quite interested to see this ending. Hmm, actually I still would…

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.


I never much cared for Peter Pan either. I thought he was a selfish idiot. I did love the movie "Hook" when it came out though I have since learned that I'm evidently alone in that. Apparently it's one of those horrible movies that you're not allowed to admit you like

Really? I was introduced to Hook by enthusiastic friends who couldn't figure out why I hadn't seen it yet.

I quite enjoyed being a kid (though on the whole I can't think why, as school & things were pretty awful for a great deal of it) but I never understood the appeal of Peter Pan either. Possibly it just seemed like a bit of a cop-out so far as portal fantasies went; they didn't save the world or anything.

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Yes! I was always Tiger Lily when we played Peter Pan stuff as kids. Interestingly, nobody every bothered playing Peter... we all thought he was annoying. But being a very quiet child meant that Tiger Lily's attitude and little snarky remarks to the pirates and to Hook greatly appealed to me.

I hated Peter Pan as a kid, too. I still don't particularly care for it. I mostly know of it from cultural osmosis, the Mary Martin play (though I may have seen the Disney animated one, too), and Hook, which I saw as an adult (though I've no idea why I saw it since I don't like the Peter Pan story). I thought the clapping for Tinkerbell was condescending and - rather as you took it - about kids performing for the adults, not really about kids at all. I thought the story was sexist. I thought Peter Pan himself was insuperable and the the entire set up was creepy rather than fun. Oh, great, a jackass who doesn't want to grow up who steals boys and sees women as only good for being mothers. Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun.

And, as you point out, why would one not want to grow up? That seems more like the fantasy of an adult than of a kid: Ah, to go back to my childhood (which has gone all rosy with nostalgia) and not have the cares of adult life.

I never understood the appeal of it myself when I was a kid. But my go-to stories were by Robert Heinlein and Alan Dean Foster, not the childhood is magical stuff I was apparently /supposed/ to be reading. I had the run of the house bookwise and I wholeheartedly agree, dragons and space and amazing different worlds were way more interesting than forever childhood or happily ever afters.

Though I was a sucker for The Lion King. But only because I thought it would be cool to be a lion. Considering that now, I'm not too surprised given when I was five I wanted to grow up to be a pony. Not have a pony like most kids, BE a pony. XD

I have a friend who tells a story about being asked, as a small child what he wanted to be when he grew up. He thought about it and said "The president of the United States. Or a whale."

I didn't have any particular opinion on Peter Pan, but I wasn't in a tremendous hurry to grow up either. Especially as I got older--nothing magic had happened to me yet and it was becoming increasingly clear that it wasn't going to, and I was going to turn out to be one of the boring stodgy kind of grown-ups instead of one of the kind that could participate in the wondrous.

That is totally how I felt too.

I just read this blog post aloud to my Mom and sister and had them nearly collapse in giggles! I love reading your blog <3

Peter Pan himself always creeped me out as a kid-- he took kids away from their home, brought them back, promised he'd come back for them and then never did. And I got so mad for Tinker Bell's sake; she was so devoted to Peter and then just got forgotten. Always saw Peter as more of a selfish creep than a hero, and so could never quite understand why Hook had to be the villain; he didn't like Peter Pan either so child-me figured there had to be a good reason.

Found a couple of friends who agree with me, and now we're working on Faerietale. :-)

I do in fact love Pan and still do, and I always clapped for Tink because I believe in stage magic, but I must admit that I rather dismissed him as the ... the Ferris Bueller, shall we say. It wasn't ABOUT him for me, it was about Tink and the Boys and Wendy and Moira. And Hook. Always Hook. I grew up on the Mary Martin musical-pantomime, and so I dreamed of stalking about in a beautiful curly wig and demanding my pirate minions play for me ... a TARANTELLA. ('A Tarantella!')

...also I figured that the Lost Boys weren't Logan's Run'd (Logan's Ran?) so much as they just 'fell out' of Neverland and back into grown-up worlds. And I refuse to acknowledge any other possibility, because the fountains in Ft Worth where they had everyone emerge from were closed long ago. So there. XD

But yeah, the memory thing bugged me a lot. But not seeing Peter as the person with whom I should associate helped.

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I never read the book. I grew up with a fairly strong lack of Disney, which I suspect was fairly intentional. My mother had definite ideas about me not watching too much that tried to tell me that my major accomplishment in life would be getting rescued by a prince and getting married (I played a lot of Zork and reread Alice's Adventures). Also, watching musicals tended to lead to singing, which was not a good outcome for anyone within earshot. When I did watch Peter Pan, I'm fairly sure my response was something along the lines of "Why does the girl have to take care of all the boys? That's stupid."

(It might have been a little better if Wendy got to take care of a lot of cuddly animals, or magical creatures, but boys? Why would I want to take care of them?)

Plus I basically liked my family, so the idea of being stolen away from them was something I found distressing. Additionally, as an immigrant, I had a different view on the entire 'going away to another land'- I didn't assume it was magical, I assumed it would be confusing and maybe no one would like me and they'd make fun of my accent.

So, yeah, it did nothing for me either.

As a kid, I liked Peter Pan as a period piece and as a story about the appeal of charming, feckless men to motherly women (yes, by 9 I had figured this out; it didn't help, but I understood it).

But then I didn't want to grow up, either. To me, growing up sounded like the same horror that was childhood, with extra responsibility for yourself and everything else. You didn't even get summers off. You had to drive a car (only a few steps safer than Russian Roulette, in my mind), have a job, pay bills, make decisions... my vision of growing up was as grim as A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

I don't know how many kids who liked Peter Pan had the same feelings, though.

Yes, THIS (about growing up). Grownups were busy and stressed and had to work long hours even in the summer and never did fun things or had time to read books and had to do taxes and . . . *deep breath*

I NEVER wanted to grow up. I accepted that I would grow older. But I was pretty sure that I could avoid growing up (though I'd probably have to file taxes and work in the summer, unless I became a teacher) as long as I stayed in the right mindset. I'm not sure that it worked -- but I still don't feel like a grownup.

While I didn't hate Peter Pan, I didn't especially like it, either. It was just one of those books that someone read to me, not one of the Important Parts Of My Childhood. Looking back on it now, I think that it had the Snow White Problem, not that I could've articulated it at the time:
If I was going to run away to fairyland, NO WAY was I going to do all the cooking and cleaning while a bunch of boys got to run around and do everything cool.

Also, the shadow part? Freaked me out more than a little bit. Not the losing it, the sewing it back on again. Clearly she wasn't sewing the shadow onto his clothing, because you take clothing off sometimes; she was sewing it into his skin. OW. Couldn't she have glued it on? Or just tied it around his waist, or an ankle or something?

I have the vaguely fond memories of the Disney movie in that it had sword fighting and pirates and that was neat, and I think I had the very firm idea that Peter Pan was a cartoon and toons did not grow up like people any more than they went to the bathroom like people. So the whole never-grow-up thing was ridiculous and I simply ignored it the same way I ignored the whole Pluto and Goofy thing.

I do, however, have one very strong memory of getting in trouble in elementary school because I refused to say anything other than "And liberty and justice for all, except kids" every morning at the pledge of allegiance because you can't tell a kid they have no option but to chant something inside a building when they'd rather be outside, and also tell them everyone has liberty and justice. I think I eventually compromised on "Liberty and justice for adults" since that was close enough not to fight over.

I love Peter Pan (actually I love JM Barrie...), but Peter is *not* a hero. If anybody in the story is, it's Wendy. Peter is "innocent and heartless" - in other words, Barrie was quite aware that children are self-centered - and Peter is the worst of them all since no one can teach him better. Peter didn't want to grow up because he didn't want responsibility, and since he lived in Neverland, he didn't have to go to school and all the other things that makes childhood suck.

(And yes, Hook is probably the most interesting character, something I think JM Barrie would agree with, since he did a very interesting speech about Hook at Eton.)

Just so you know, I'm trying not to lose respect for you over this. ;p

I enjoyed being a kid running wild on the farm with my animals, but I found school to be horrible--the kids were quite savage and cruel when it came to bullying someone quiet and shy (i.e. me). Recently when I was invited to a reunion I wrote back and flatly told them they couldn't pay me enough to spend time with the people that made my life HELL for YEARS.