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Peter Pan

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Peter Pan, as illustrated by Alice B. Woodward
Peter Pan, as illustrated by Alice B. Woodward

Peter Pan is the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, the central character in an enduring modern fantasy story. He is a mischievous boy who can fly, he refuses by an act of will to ever grow up, and he spends his never-ending childhood adventuring on the small island of Never Land as the leader of his gang the Lost Boys, interacting with mermaids, Indians, fairies, and pirates, and from time to time meeting ordinary children from the world outside.

He was created in 1902 by Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie. In addition to two stories by Barrie – told in both prose and a stage play – the character has been featured in a variety of media and merchandise, both adapting and expanding on Barrie's works, and become a part of our popular culture.



Peter Pan first appeared in chapters 13–18 of The Little White Bird, a 1902 novel written for adults. Following Barrie's hit play about Peter Pan in 1904, his publishers extracted this section of the book and republished them in 1906 under the title Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, with the addition of illustrations by Arthur Rackham.

The adventure that sparked this popularity was the stage play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, which debuted on December 27, 1904. This story was a huge hit in London, and in New York the following year, and was adapted in picture books, ABC books, and finally adapted and expanded somewhat as a novel. The novel was published in 1911 as Peter and Wendy, and later – to take better advantage of the character's name recognition – Peter Pan and Wendy and then simply Peter Pan. The final script of the stage play was published in 1928.

Peter Pan has appeared in numerous adaptations, sequels, and prequels since then. These include a silent movie, the famous 1953 animated Walt Disney's Peter Pan, various stage musicals (including the one starring Mary Martin, filmed for television), live-action feature films Hook (1991) and Peter Pan (2003), and the authorized sequel novel Peter Pan in Scarlet (2006). He has also appeared in various works not authorized by the holders of the character's copyright, which has lapsed in most of the world.

Major stories

Peter Pan playing the pipes, from the novel Peter and Wendy published in 1911, illustrated by F. D. Bedford
Peter Pan playing the pipes, from the novel Peter and Wendy published in 1911, illustrated by F. D. Bedford

Of the stories written about Peter Pan, several have gained widespread notability:

  • Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens – Infant Peter flies from his home, makes friends with fairies, and takes up residence in Kensington Gardens. A "book-within-a-book" first published in Barrie's The Little White Bird.
  • Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up / Peter and Wendy – Peter brings Wendy and her brothers to Never Land, where he has a climactic showdown with his nemesis Captain Hook. Originally told in Barrie's stage play and novel, and repeatedly adapted in various media.
  • Hook – Peter has grown up, forgotten about his life in Never Land, and has a wife and children of his own. While the family is in London visiting elderly Wendy, Captain Hook abducts Peter's children to lure him back for a final duel to the death. A film by Steven Spielberg.
  • Return to Never Land – During World War II, Wendy's slightly war-hardened daughter Jane is taken to Never Land by Captain Hook, but Peter saves her and asks her to be the Lost Boys' new "mother". A film by Disney.
  • The Starcatchers series – Peter leaves a London orphanage for a series of adventures which offer an origin story for Captain Hook, fairies, his abilities, and the Lost Boys. Novels by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.
  • Peter Pan in Scarlet – Wendy, John, and most of the Lost Boys return to Neverland, where Peter has begun to take Captain Hook's place. A novel by Geraldine McCaughrean, an official sequel to Peter and Wendy.

See Works based on Peter Pan for a complete list of books, films, etc. featuring these and other Peter Pan stories.


Barrie never described Peter's appearance in detail, even in the novel Peter and Wendy, leaving much of it to the imagination of the reader and the interpretation of anyone adapting the character. Barrie mentions in Peter and Wendy that Peter Pan still had all of his baby teeth. He describes him as a beautiful boy with a beautiful smile, "clad in skeleton leaves and the juices that flow from trees". In the play, Peter's outfit is made of autumn leaves and cobwebs. His name and playing the flute vaguely suggest the mythological character Pan.

Traditionally the character has been played on stage by a young adult woman, a decision driven primarily by the difficulty of casting actors even younger than the one playing Peter as the other children, so the presentation of the character on stage has never been viewed as implying how Peter "really" looks.

In Peter Pan in Scarlet, Geraldine McCaughrean adds to the description of his appearance, mentioning his blue eyes, and saying that his hair is light (or at least any colour lighter than black). In this novel, Never Land has moved on to autumn, so Peter wears a tunic of jay feathers and maple leaves, rather than his summertime garb. In the 'Starcatcher' stories written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter has carrot-orange hair and bright blue eyes.

In the Disney films, Peter wears an outfit that is easier to animate, consisting of a short-sleeved green tunic and tights apparently made of cloth, and a cap with a feather in it. He has pointed elf-like ears, and his hair is orangish brown. In the live-action 2003 film, he is portrayed by Jeremy Sumpter, who has blond hair and blue eyes, and his outfit is made of leaves and vines. In Hook, he appears as an adult as Robin Williams with dark brown hair, but in flashbacks to his youth his hair is more orangish. In this film his ears appear pointed only when he is "Peter Pan", not "Peter Banning"; his Pan clothing resembles the Disney outfit.


Image:PeterPan Statue Londres.jpg
Statue of Peter Pan in London

The notion of a boy who would never grow up was based on J. M. Barrie's older brother who died in an ice-skating accident the day before he turned 14, and thus always stayed a young boy in his mother's mind. Ironically, the "boy who wouldn't grow up" has appeared at a variety of ages. In his original appearance in The Little White Bird he was only seven days old. Although his age is not stated in Barrie's later play and novel, his characterization is clearly several years older. The book states that he has all of his baby teeth, and Barrie's intended model for the statue of Peter that was erected in Kensington Gardens was a set of photos of Michael Llewelyn Davies taken at the age of six. Early illustrations of the character generally appeared to be that age or perhaps a few years older. In the 1953 Disney adaptation and its 2002 sequel, Peter appears to be in late childhood, between 10 and 13 years old. (The actor who provided the voice in 1953 was 15-year-old Bobby Driscoll.) In the 2003 film, Jeremy Sumpter was 13 at the time filming started, but by the end of filming he was 14 and had grown several inches taller. In the movie Hook, Peter is said to have left Neverland many years earlier, forsaking his eternal youth and aging normally. When remembering his buried past, Peter is shown as a baby, a little boy, and also a near-teenager, suggesting that the aging process does not entirely stop in Never Land until puberty or just before. When Peter says "I remember you being a lot bigger," in the final duel, Hook answers, "to a 10-year-old I'm huge." He is portrayed by 40-year-old Robin Williams, and has two children, played by actors who were 7 and 13 years old at the time.


Maude Adams as Peter Pan
Maude Adams as Peter Pan

Peter is mainly an exaggerated stereotype of a boastful and careless boy. He is quick to point out how great he is, even when such claims are questionable (such as when he congratulates himself for Wendy's successful reattachment of his shadow).

Peter has a nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude, and is fearlessly cocky when it comes to putting himself in danger. Barrie writes that when Peter thought he was going to die on Marooner's Rock, he felt scared, yet he felt only one shudder run through him when any other person would have felt scared up until death. With his blissful unawareness of the tragedy of death, he says, "To die will be an awfully big adventure".

One other thing sort of dark thing that always stood out for him is where Barrie mentions that for Peter, unlike with other children, the notion that the world isn't a fair place never sinks in. So every time he experiences something dishonorable, it hurts just as much as the first time - like when he goes to help up Hook on the cliff, who slashes him. The Schock, he will always forget and never learn and remember.

In some variations of the story and some spin-offs, Peter can also be quite nasty and selfish. In the Disney adaptation of the tale, Peter appears very judgmental and pompous (for example, he called the Lost Boys 'blockheads' and when the Darling children say that they should leave for home at once, he gets the wrong message and angrily assumes that they want to grow up).

In the 2003 live-action film, Peter Pan is sensitive about the subject of "growing up". When confronted by Hook about Wendy growing up, marrying and eventually "shutting the window" on Peter, he becomes very depressed and finally loses the will to fight.


Peter Pan in Disney's sequel to the 1953 animated film
Peter Pan in Disney's sequel to the 1953 animated film

Peter's archetypal ability is his un-ending youth. In Peter and Wendy it is explained that Peter must forget his own adventures and what he learns about the world in order to stay child-like. Author Kevin Orlin Johnson argues that the Pan stories are in the German-English tradition of the Totenkindergeschichte (roughly, "tales of dead children"), and the idea that Peter and all of the lost boys are dead in a Never Land afterlife is consistent with that genre, and rooted in Barrie's own life story. The fact that the other Lost Boys are growing up and able to be killed in Peter and Wendy contradicts this idea. The unauthorized prequels by Barry and Pearson attribute Peter's everlasting youth to his exposure to starstuff, a magical substance which has fallen to earth.

Peter's ability to fly is explained in The Little White Bird. He can fly because he – like all babies – is part bird. Once he doubts,however, the power is gone. The fairies restore it (albeit temporarily) by tickling his shoulders. In the play and novel, he teaches the Darling children to fly using a combination of "lovely wonderful thoughts" (which became "happy thoughts" in Disney's film) and fairy dust; it is unclear whether he is serious about "happy thoughts" being required (it was stated in the novel that this was merely a silly diversion from the fairy dust being the true source), or whether he requires the fairy dust himself. In Hook, the adult Peter is unable to fly until he remembers his "happy thought". The ability to fly is also attributed to starstuff – apparently the same thing as fairy dust – in the Starcatcher prequels.

Peter has an effect on the whole of Never Land and its inhabitants when he is there. Barrie states that although Never Land appears different to every child, the island "wakes up" when he returns from his trip to London. In the chapter 'The Mermaid Lagoon' in Peter and Wendy, Barrie writes that there is almost nothing that Peter cannot do. He is a skilled swordsman, rivaling even Captain Hook, whose hand he cut off in a duel. He has remarkably keen vision and hearing. He is skilled in mimicry, copying the voice of Hook, and the tick-tock of the Crocodile.

In both Peter and Wendy and Peter Pan in Scarlet, there are various mentions of Peter's ability to imagine things into existence, such as food, though this ability plays a more central role in Peter Pan in Scarlet. He also creates imaginary windows and doors as a kind of physical metaphor for ignoring or shunning his companions. He is said to be able to feel danger when it is near. In Peter Pan in Scarlet, it says that when Curly's puppy licks Peter, it licks off a lot of fairy dust, which may be interpreted to mean that he has become fairy-like to the point of producing his own dust, but could also simply mean that he spends so much time with fairies that he is coated in their dust.

In Peter and Wendy, Barrie states that the Peter Pan legend Mrs. Darling heard as a child was that when children died, he accompanied them part of the way to their destination so that they would not be scared.


Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan in the 2003 film
Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan in the 2003 film

Peter does not know his parents. In Kensington Gardens Barrie wrote that he left them as an infant, and seeing the window closed and a new baby in the house when he returned, he assumed they no longer wanted him. In Starcatchers he is said to be an orphan, though his friends Molly and George discover who his parents are in Rundoon. In Hook, Peter remembers his parents, specifically his mother, who wanted him to grow up and go to the best schools in London to become a judge and have a family life. After Peter "ran away" to Neverland, he returns to find his parents forgot about him and had another child (the gender of Peter's sibling is revealed to be another boy in Peter and Wendy).

Peter is the leader of the Lost Boys, a band of boys who were lost by their parents, and came to live in Neverland; it is reported that he "thins them out" when they start to grow up. He is best friends with Tinker Bell, a common fairy who is often jealously protective of him.

His nemesis is Captain Hook, whose hand he cut off in a duel. Hook's crew, including Smee and Starkey, also consider him a foe. The Starcatchers books introduce additional foes: Slank and Lord Ombra.

Peter's brother is Michael Pan. Barrie created him for a sequel idea, which he did not pursue other than incorporating his notes into the novel Peter and Wendy. Peter Von Brown picked up Barrie's musings and brought him to light as Peter's "older younger brother." In Peter Pan's NeverWorld, Michael Pan is an adversary, stemming from "silbling rivalry."

From time to time Peter visits the real world, particularly around Kensington Gardens, and befriends children there. Wendy Darling, whom he recruited to be his "mother", is the most significant of them; He takes girls, who tell stories, to the Neverland and has them be his "wife" : he and she are Mother and Father to the Lost Boys. He also brings her brothers John and Michael to Never Land at her request. He later befriends Wendy's daughter Jane (and her subsequent daughter Margaret), and Peter and Wendy says that he will continue this pattern indefinitely. In Starcatchers he previously befriends Molly Aster and young George Darling.

Peter appears to be known to all the residents of Neverland, including the Indian princess Tiger Lily and her tribe, the mermaids, and the fairies.

Robin Williams as Peter Pan in Hook
Robin Williams as Peter Pan in Hook

In Hook, Peter states the reason he wanted to grow up was to be a father. He married Wendy's granddaughter, Moira, and they have two children, Maggie and Jack.

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