J.M Barrie's Peter Pan Will Haunt You - Featured Image

J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan will Haunt you: Here’s 5 Reasons Why

J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan is perhaps the most beloved character by children. While Barrie’s books were immensely popular, Peter Pan shot to fame with Disney’s adaptation. In a Disney World full of princes and princesses, Peter Pan stood out, a mere child whose only goal in life seems to have fun and be happy. He has no kingdoms to worry about (though Captain Hook is a worthy opponent), no ballroom etiquettes to follow or romantic crisis to avert. He is the most uncomplicated and most relatable Disney character – a child who wishes not to grow up.

What’s not to love about him?

However, it is a mistake to believe that’s all there is to him. Many films that hit the theatres had been on paper first, written lovingly word by painstaking word by an author and then published. It is these famous books that have been adapted to screen. There is a drawback to this.

The books lose much of their essence in the process. There are scenes loved by readers that go unseen by filmmakers, entire characters that stop existing beyond the pages of the book. Though Peter Pan retains most of its plot, Disney has slowly chipped away at his character.

If I’m being honest, Disney did us a favour. They turned Peter Pan into a happy childhood dream. J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan may have been too much for children to handle. He would haunt their dreams (as he haunts mine). Here’s why –

Peter Pan’s Deadly Origin

Did you know that J.M Barrie was not an only child?

He was the youngest of ten children, most of whom died. His older brother, David, Mrs Barrie’s favourite, was lost too in a freak skating accident when Barrie was only six. He watched his mother spiral down into misery and then decided to do something about it. Can you guess what? I bet not.

He started imitating dead David. To secure his distraught mothers’ attention and love, Barrie strove to become the David she had lost. He imitated the dead boys’ speech, clothes and even mannerisms. Strangely enough, Barrie stopped growing altogether once he turned thirteen, that is, the age David passed away at. He never stood taller than five feet and didn’t start shaving till he was twenty-four.

Barrie’s method was undoubtedly unusual. But he managed to worm his way into his mothers’ heart. His mother found consolation in the fact that her long-dead child would forever remain a boy, never to leave her and never to grow up.

Sounds familiar? It does to me.

Later, Barrie met the Llewelyn Davies boys at London’s Kensington Gardens, and they became his Muses. You can read more about them here.

Michael’s Almost Murder

J.M Barries Peter Pan - Michael Image

If you remember, Michael had been the youngest of the Darling children. A rosy-cheeked, orange-haired little boy in the Disney adaptation.

Apparently, J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan had vastly different opinions about him. He was willing to let him die for fun, after all. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But I swear I’m not lying.

Barrie demonstrates this right away during the Neverland flight. Michael keeps drifting off to sleep while flying. He’s a little kid. How long can he stay up? The book narrates –

“They were sleepy; and that was a danger, for the moment they popped off, down they fell. The awful thing was that Peter thought this was funny.

“There he goes again!” he would cry gleefully, as Michael suddenly dropped like a stone.”

Wendy would cry, “Save him, save him!” and yet Peter would wait till the very last moment to hear her appeal. Even then, Barrie states that “it was his cleverness that interested him and not the saving of human life.”. He further enlightens the readers –

“Alas, he (Peter) was fond of variety, and the sport that engrossed him one moment could suddenly cease to engage him, so there was always the possibility that the next time you fell he would let you go.”

Children get bored of games quickly, just like Peter, but their getting bored never lowers someone’s odds of survival. However, J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan experiencing boredom could mean death for someone, and yet he would not even stop by to mourn.

Implied Murder of the Lost Boys

This is perhaps the most well-known speculation about J.M Barries’ Peter Pan. I find it necessary to point this out too. Barrie writes,

“The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out.”

Take note. ‘Peter thins them out. It sounds an awful lot like Peter kills them. He hates growing up and grown-ups. So much so that Barrie writes,

“As soon as he got inside his tree he breathed intentionally quick short breaths at the rate of about five to a second. He did this because there is a saying in the Neverland that, every time you breathe, a grown-up dies; and Peter was killing them off vindictively as fast as possible.”

Now, is it really that much of a stretch to believe that J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan also resorted to killing the Lost Boys? I don’t think so.

J.M Barrie’s complaints about Peter Pan’s Depiction

Barrie, in his novel, paints the image of a child no parent would want near their children. In Barrie’s own words, Peter was meant to be ‘demonic and amoral’. In fact, he loudly complained about the statue of Peter in Kensington Gardens because it ‘did not convey the devil in Peter’. This is the angelic statue.

J.M Barries Peter Pan - Statue at Kensington Gardens, London


None of this ‘devilishness’ appears in the 1953 Disney movie either. The Darling children’s flight to Neverland with Peter as their guide is nothing but joyous, with fishes jumping up to greet them and songs sung in the night air. There is none of the tension or the anxiety that can be sensed plaguing the Darling children in the book. The journey goes without a hitch, much less Michaels’ almost murder.

The Truth of Neverland

Talking of Neverland, Disney even changes Barrie’s vision of it. The Neverland we see on-screen appears as a pretty paradise of a green island with glimmering blue water surrounding it and multicoloured rainbows decorating the sky.

J.M Barries Peter Pan - Neverland as seen in the 1953 Disney film

Barrie, on the other hand, provides us with a glimpse of an island straight out of a horror movie –

“In the old days at home Neverland had always begun to look a little dark and threatening by bedtime. Then unexplored patches arose in it and spread, black shadows moved about in them, the roar of the beasts of prey was quite different now, and above all, you lost the certainty that you would win. You were quite glad that the night-lights were on. You even liked Nana to say that this was just the mantelpiece over here, and that the Neverland was all make-believe.”

Barrie’s Neverland is the stuff of children’s nightmares, maybe even an adults’. This image of it does not make it into the Disney adaptation. The Peter Pan, who resides within the pages of the book, is entirely comfortable in this terrible parody of Neverland as one can only be in one’s own home. The only way for Peter to be so in a place as ghastly as Neverland is to be terrible and ghastly and become the ‘demon’ that Barrie envisioned him as.


J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan has haunted me since I first time read the novel. Disney made it appear as the ideal dreamland, and I was shocked to find otherwise. This hasn’t deterred me from loving it. I love diving deep into Barrie’s Peter Pan time and again. I love discovering new facets of him. Most of all, I love pointing out Disney’s changes; how Disney made it children friendly. What reader doesn’t like doing that though?

Have you read J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan? Is there any other literary text you know that has undergone similar changes with time or media?


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