1. A fairy tale country you want to visit for a big dose of fun.
A lot of us have a very close connection to this fairy tale country. Do you remember dreams of impossible adventures in your childhood? You may have been one of the many children who visit Neverland in dreams.
When I tapped into this fairy tale story my first strong impression was that Peter Pan was female: Petra Pan should be the name of the heroine. I asked myself why Barrie wrote about a boy. When I did some research of the history of Great Britain at the time Barrie wrote about Peter (1902) the reasons became clear.
Barrie first used Peter Pan as a minor character in his novel” The Little White Bird” (1902). People liked the character and so 1904 Peter got the central role in a stage play titled Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. In 1911 Peter became the lead character of the still popular novel Peter and Wendy I am basing this article on. Today there are a lot of works based on this story: films, unauthorised sequels, comics and computer games. Peter Pan still captures our imagination today and you will know why when we take a closer look behind the scenes of this country.
2. Historical Background
Society before the First World War (1914-1918) was very stiff and governed by many rules. Queen Victoria reigned until 1901. The Victorian era was identified with strict standards of personal morality. Women had hardly any rights. They were not allowed to vote or to study. They wore confining long dresses and corsets that symbolise the female oppression of these timesfor me. As a woman you were supposed to be docile, loving and maternal, not adventurous and intelligent. The time certainly was not ripe for a cheeky girl to be a heroine who defies rules.
In Barrie´s story the Lost Boys appoint Wendy as a surrogate mother as soon as she arrives in Neverland. She readily assumes this role that she learned from her mother including making a home and singing lullabies.
Nevertheless Barrie wrote Peter Pan in times when change was waiting just around the corner: Women were starting to campaign for the vote and equal rights. Perhaps this is the reason why he included so many elements of freedom in his novel.
3. The Story of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
The Darling household consists of the three children, Wendy, John, and Michael; the stern but friendly father, Mr Darling; the loving mother, Mrs Darling and the children’s nurse, the dog Nana.
Peter Pan likes to sneak into the children’s bedroom at night to listen to the kids´ bedtime stories. One night, Nana and Mrs Darling see him and almost catch him, but only get hold of his shadow when he flees out the window. They roll it up and put it in a drawer. Peter returns with the fairy Tinker Bell later after the parents have left for a dinner party. When he finds his shadow, he can’t make it stick to him and wakes Wendy who sews it onto him.
Peter tells Wendy that he has run away the day he was born because he heard his parents talk about the things he would do when he was a man. He explains that he went to live in Neverland so that he would never have to grow up. Now he leads a group of boys there, who got lost when they fell out of their prams.
Peter convinces Wendy and her brothers, by teaching them how to fly, to return to Neverland with him and Tinker Bell. They fly over the rooftops of London into the sky and beyond.
In Neverland the lost boys share their island with the pirates, led by Captain Hook, and the Picadilly Indian tribe, led by the chief and his daughter Tiger Lily. Hook desperately wants to capture Peter Pan and his friends because Peter cut off Hook’s hand and fed it to a crocodile. The crocodile likes his taste so much that he follows him everywhere. Since the crocodile has also swallowed a clock, the ticking warns Hook of his approach.
When they arrive in the magical land the lost boys, spurred on by a jealous Tinker Bell, believe Wendy to be a giant bird and shoot at her with a bow and arrow. Peter saves Wendy and banishes Tinker Bell. He then explains to the others where Wendy and her brothers come from. They build her a house and ask her to be their mother. Hook and the pirates put a green poison cake near the new house. The boys want to eat it as soon as they find it, but Wendy, the wise mother, stops them and puts them to bed, after singing lullabies to them.
The next day, Peter takes Wendy to see the mermaids. While there they see the pirates put Tiger Lily on a rock to drown at high tide. Peter saves her and the Indians become their friends.
Eventually, the children get homesick and decide they want to return to London. The lost boys want to go with them, but Peter wants to stay. Hook and the pirates stop these plans by capturing the children. Peter narrowly escapes with Tinker Bell’s help.
The pirates are about to have their captives walk the plank, when Peter saves them. In the final fight with Hook, Peter forces the pirate captain to the edge of the ship where he falls into the waiting jaws of the crocodile.
The three children finally return home, along with the lost boys, who are adopted by the Darlings. Peter stays in Neverland, coming to visit Wendy once in a while but she soon turns into an adult and forgets about Neverland. However, she has a daughter, Jane, who dreams of pirates, Indians, and magical places far away.
Barrie´s Neverland stands for freedom
Peter and the Lost Boys, the Pirates and the Indians in Neverland live a free life compared to the strict rules of Victorian times.
The Darling household looks pretty normal on the surface. The only hint that this family might be different is that their nanny is a dog. The children meet Peter, a person from another dimension and travel with him to his world. Peter, Wendy and her brothers are the connection between the two dimensions. They get the opportunity to experience the freedom of Neverland.
Peter, the leader of the Lost Boys, is cheeky and rebellious. Even laws of nature, like growing up, don´t apply to them.
The Pirates in Barrie´s story also stand for freedom and individualism. In our dimension they successfully interrupted trade, colonialism and social order. During the 19th century they were presented as romantic anti-heroes. (Treasure Island by Stevenson was published in1883).
Indians in Barrie´s time were viewed as strong and free people. Karl May´s Winnetou (1878) was popular at the time and is probably partly responsible for this. The public did not acknowledge the genocide that was going on at the time.
4. Behind the scenes of Neverland
The main themes in Neverland are playfulness, adventures and freedom. For me it looks like a giant playground.
This fairy tale country is loud and exuberant: When arriving you may stumble upon a noisy battle between pirates while a few miles away some sea creatures are trying to devour a group of Lost Children. This country is nothing for the fainthearted!
Its landscape consists of many islands scattered in an ocean, very similar to the country of the merpeople. However the landscape of Neverland is as variable as a giant stage and can be easily adjusted to the needs of the inhabitants: Should they need a bay, some steep mountains or a big cave, they contact the local magician and make it happen.
The many different interacting groups make this fairy tale country so colourful. All the time something is happening. The groups invent new adventures continuously. Sometimes many different groups are involved in them and sometimes only one. Alliances change constantly. Individuals can join other groups easily: An Indian can become a pirate or a mermaid.
Successful players become group leaders fast and lose their jobs just as fast when they are not successfull. This is why cunning and intelligence are very important traits in this country.
In spite of all their battles and conflicts the inhabitants divide the chores of providing food and clothing for everybody between themselves evenly.
4.1 The known players
Petra, Peter and the Lost Children
The Peters and Petras of Neverland are the leaders of their respective teams. The number of teams varies according to the number of participants. The teams are not exclusively male or female. Besides boys and girls also faeries and other magic creatures belong in this. What they have in common is that they are young and love wild playing.
The pirates in this fairy tale country are adults. The crews live on a variety of ships ranging from wooden three masters to modern yachts that are powered by magic. The pirate captains and crew consist of males, females and magic creatures, who enjoy serious sword fights. They second as fishermen and provide food from the sea for everybody. Some ships trade with neighbouring countries.
They live on the islands as families in villages consisting of teepees with chiefs as mayors. Together they work the land providing much of the needed food. They provide a safe heaven for people who need some rest and tranquillity after too much hard play. Of course they also take part in the games. It depends on the individuals how much they want to involve themselves.
form an in-between group. They belong partly to the ocean and partly on land. They are shape-shifters just like in the country of the merpeople.
4.2 The unknown players
This is a cool group. The crocodile stands for these dangerous animals living mainly in the ocean. They form a separate group that includes whales, giant octopus, stingrays, huge sea snakes and dragons. When they are in a good mood they let members of the other groups slide on their backs and take part in swimming and diving contests.
The magicians in this fairy tale country love playfulness just as much as the other inhabitants. Together with the respective group leaders they design and build new “playgrounds” or arenas for games. They can control the weather and help out should a storm be needed. Should arise the need for an arbiter the magicians have the last word.
Their job is to maintain order if games get out of hand. They are allowed to play too, of course.
In Barrie´s story Peter´s shadow can exit separately. This is typical for the Fairy Tale Dimension. There the shadows are just another life form. When they have time off they live a life of their own. Because of having less substance shadows have faster ways of travelling and communication than the other inhabitants. They are organised in a brotherhood, an organisation that spans the whole dimension.
In Neverland the shadows form a separate group and take part in the games. As you can imgaine they are responsible for many surprises.
5. Being 100% present
I love this country for its sense of freedom, its creativity and its bursting energy. The inhabitants act out their aggressions and rivalries in bloody adventures and make sure they are maintaining their country at the same time. This gives them the chance to be 100% in the now.
But remember, in the Fairy Tale Dimension results of wild play like serious injuries or death are not final and easily remedied.
The players´ fantasies are the only boundaries: Games are set in all kinds of environments: In the air with fairy dust or hot air balloons, in and on the surface of the sea and on and beneath the ground. Imagine a whole country with ADHD! Neverland definitely is no utopia. Everything is allowed and fair play is not an option. I love to visit these wild lovable people although it can get quite exhausting.
My first impression of Petra Pan was a symbol for the possibilities of this country. It is so unique that it cannot be compared to anything else I have ever seen. These guys are living their freedom to the fullest without any compromises.
A big part of my attraction for this fairy tale country is that its inhabitants are aware that they are self directing and that they are always totally present in everything they are doing. This is incredibly powerful and something we can definitely learn from them.
© Inge Schumacher