When exploring the character of Peter Pan, one must not forget to consider Neverland, the only home that Peter will ever have. As was established, Peter is a trickster and a child, and the focus of this chapter is to show that Neverland is a perfect place for both tricksters and children, and to explore the connection between the two.
There are two reasons why Neverland is an ideal place for children. First, it is a place created by them because it is a kind of psychological landscape, “with external conflicts often mirroring or refracting psychological processes” (Tatar, “Introduction” xxxix). It is here that the products of their imagination come to life:21
Strange to say, they all recognised [the island] at once, and until fear fell upon them they hailed it, not as something long dreamt of and seen at last, but as a familiar friend to whom they were returning home for the holidays. “John, there’s the lagoon.” “Wendy, look at the turtles burying their eggs in the sand.” “I say, John, I see your flamingo with the broken leg!” “Look, Michael, there’s your cave!” “John, what’s that in the brushwood?” “It’s a wolf with whelps. Wendy, I do believe that’s your little whelp!” “There’s my boat, John, with her sides stove in!” (Barrie, The Annotated 57)
Indeed, children are the creators of the things and animals in Neverland, and so they are, in a sense, also culture heroes. Nevertheless, if one should identify the main culture hero in the context of Neverland, it must be Peter – because of his transformative influence. Indeed, Neverland changes its character according to Peter’s presence or absence. During his absence it is rather passive, but as he approaches, it comes back to life:
Feeling that Peter was on his way back, the Neverland had again woke into life. We ought to use the pluperfect and say wakened, but woke is better and was always used by Peter. In his absence things are usually quiet on the island. [...] But with the coming of Peter, who hates lethargy, they are under way again: if you put your ear to the ground now, you would hear the whole island seething with life (Barrie, The Annotated 64).
Apart from demonstrating Peter’s transformative influence, this passage also shows that grammar rules do not apply here either. Furthermore, Peter also named the birds (and probably other animals, too) living in Neverland, which further supports his role of a culture hero:22 “He regretted now that he had given the birds of the island such strange names that they are wild and difficult of approach” (145).
The second reason why the children feel so comfortable and happy in Neverland is the fact that it is a sort of playground where they are free to follow their natural inclinations without the disturbing presence of adults. Moreover, in Neverland, the laws of logic and natural laws in general do not apply, which means that the children are not limited by them:
Neverland is presented in all its glorious variety—liberated from the tyranny of adult efforts (like those of Mrs. Darling, who “puts things straight” every night int he minds of her three children) to produce order. It gives us a higher order in which what looks like clutter and messiness turns out to have real imaginative content. Here, everything is touched by the wand of poetry, transforming itself into something new in the context of Neverland. By suspending the “real” laws of existence and of any interest at all in use-value or profit, Neverland gives us a symbolic order of true beauty with the added enchantments of play. (Tatar, “Introduction” xli)
Everything is open to the play of children’s imagination. They often engage in role play and make-believe, which allows them to change their identities freely: Slightly has to play the doctor who treats Wendy after she has been shot (Barrie, The Annotated 83); Wendy plays the role of a mother to the lost boys throughout the story; and Peter plays a father figure.23 In Neverland, children get the opportunity to experiment with their identities, and the mercurial Peter often takes the lead in this venture. The narrator describes one episode which is “especially interesting as showing one of Peter’s peculiarities, which was that in the middle of a fight he would suddenly change sides” (93). The story goes like this:
At the gulch, when victory was still in the balance, sometimes leaning this way and sometimes that, he called out, “I’m redskin to-day; what are you, Tootles?” And Tootles answered, “Redskin; what are you, Nibs?” and Nibs said, “Redskin; what are you Twin?” and so on; and they were all redskin; and of course this would have ended the fight had not the real redskins, fascinated by Peter’s methods, agreed to be lost boys for that once, and so at it they all went again, more fiercely than ever. (93)
This episode illustrates Peter’s tricksterish capriciousness and openness to new experiences that he passes on others as well. And Neverland is the place where children can try everything out. There, they “inhabit a zone where play rules supreme” (Tatar, “Introduction” xxxix).
Moreover, Neverland is characterised by a certain degree of gender confusion, subverting the strict gender roles of Victorian England. This is apparent in the character of Hook: “In his dark nature there was a touch of the feminine, as in all the great pirates, and it sometimes gave him intuitions” (Barrie, The Annotated 102). Tatar comments on this and points out more examples: “Hook’s curls, his dress, and his mannerisms all create the effeminate effects described here, reminding us that—despite the gendered division of labor—there is also frequent gender confusion in Neverland, with its sewing pirates and brave warrior princesses” (Barrie, The Annotated 102, note 10). In this regard, it is interesting to have a look at Peter. Tricksters are sometimes androgynous, being often able to change their sex. Peter is not able to change his sex, but he is not so highly sexually differentiated either, which results from the fact that he is in fact a small boy. Although he tries to come across as masculine, possibly embracing and imitating the characteristics of the heroes of the stories he loves, the fact is that, on stage, he was mainly played by women, who were better suited to play a role of a small boy than men would be:
It was assumed from the beginning that Peter would be played by a girl; until 1982 only twice in the play’s history, in productions in France and Germany in the 1950s, was the part taken by a boy or young man. In fact in the first production and for some years afterwards, all the boys were played by girls or young women, with the exception of John Darling and Slightly, the Lost Boy who provides comic relief. (Carpenter 405)
Indeed, as a small boy, Peter still has a touch of the feminine in his appearance.
There is one more important fact about Neverland: it is a place with no memory. Indeed, Peter, as its principal inmate, has serious problems with remembering people or events in general. This actually supports his resistance to attachments of any kind because he forgets everything and has no time (or desire) to get to know someone better and form an attachment to them; he does not waste time reminiscing or reliving the past; he always lives in the present:
That Peter has no memory and lives in an eternal present has been seen as the curse of living in Neverland. But because Neverland makes you forget everything, it also opens up worlds of possibilities and allows you to try out everything. In this sense, it begins to resemble Wonderland, for everything is new and arouses curiosity for the elated pilgrims wandering through it. Peter lives each moment to the fullest, reveling in the opportunities it offers and disregarding what was past and what the future holds. His identity remains unstable, for he can freely reinvent himself at any moment, even to the extent of turning into his own adversary. (Barrie, The Annotated 56, note 4)
If the trickster was to stop wandering and settle down (even though he would probably find the idea deeply disconcerting), Neverland would be the place to go to. Indeed, one can see how this place is the ideal nurturing ground for the trickster in Peter.
Some of the trickster features are actually qualities that are connected not only with Peter Pan, but also with the other children in the story and with child heroes in general. Tatar writes about “their deep appreciation of what it means to be alive. They all refuse to grow up and tarnish their sense of wonder and openness to new experiences” (Tatar, “Introduction” xxxv). Moreover, she points out the significance of Peter Pan in capturing the child’s nature: “Few literary works capture more perfectly than Peter Pan a child’s desire for mobility, lightness and flight. And it is rare to find expressed so openly and clearly the desire to remain a child forever, free of adult gravity and responsibility” (xxxv). It is here that the characteristics of children and tricksters overlap.
One of the reasons why the characteristics of children and tricksters overlap to a certain extent is the fact that the trickster is a representation of the child archetype in many respects, most importantly, however, in his function. According to C. G. Jung, the child is a mediator, a symbol that unites the opposites (Jung, Archetypy 243), just like the trickster. In his largely still preconscious state of mind, the child embodies a natural wholeness which gradually disappears with the increasing differentiation resulting from the emergence of consciousness that inevitably comes with the transition to adulthood (Kassel 249). That is why the child anticipates the figure that emerges from the synthesis of the conscious and unconscious parts of the psyche (Jung, Archetypy 243).
Peter Pan as a trickster and a child is a perfect representation of this archetype. His home is Neverland, the land of children’s dreams, which could be associated with the unconscious because, in the dreams, our unconscious is revealed (Jung, Archetypy 229). This dreamy and unconscious aspect of Neverland is further supported by the fact that there is no memory, which is why Peter keeps forgetting everything. At the same time, however, Peter always comes in with a light, which actually emanates from Tinker Bell, and the light is a symbol of consciousness: “[W]hile [Wendy] was dreaming the window of the nursery blew open, and a boy did drop on the floor. He was accompanied by a strange light, no bigger than your fist, which darted about the room like a living thing” (Barrie, Peter Pan 11). Finally, when Hook asks Peter about his identity, Peter compares himself to a newly hatched bird: “‘Pan, who and what art thou?’ he cried huskily. ‘I’m youth, I’m joy,’ Peter answered at a venture, ‘I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.’”24 (Barrie, The Annotated 163). In psychoanalysis, this could symbolise the birth of the self, which is the unity that emerges from the fusion of the conscious and unconscious elements of the psyche.
As noted earlier, Jung himself compared the trickster with the archetype of the shadow, which is the archetype that corresponds to the “uncivilised” features of the trickster, representing the traits that people normally try to suppress. However, the archetype of the child is more accurate when thinking about the trickster as the embodiment of paradox and his role as the ultimate mediator. Also, it captures the positive qualities the trickster has in common with children, such as openness to new experiences, spontaneity, creative energy and living in the now.