Saturday, May 17, 2014

Peter Pan - 100

This is the first play in the 100 plays project.  If you want to understand it, or need a refresher, here is the explanation. I'll be trying to buzz through a number of these for the rest of the year and then (hopefully!) settle into one per month.

I've seen various versions of Peter Pan many times but until now, I've never read the actual play.  The spirit of Peter Pan is fairly well represented elsewhere but there are elements to the stage version that you don't really get if you've only seen the Disney take.  For one, JM Barrie is absolutely crazy with stage directions.  Every scene is opened with a dense paragraph of notes.  Most (if not every) character is given some kind of insight into their past.  Many of those insights would be completely lost on any audience.  For instance, here is how the pirate crew is introduced:
The pirates appear upon the frozen river dragging a raft, on which reclines among cushions that dark and fearful man, CAPTAIN JAS. HOOK. A more villainous-looking brotherhood of men never hung in a row on Execution dock. Here, his great arms bare, pieces of eight in his ears as ornaments, is the handsome CECCO, who cut his name on the back of the governor of the prison at Gao. Heavier in the pull is the gigantic black who has had many names since the first one terrified dusky children on the banks of the Guidjo-mo. BILL JUKES comes next, every inch of him tattooed, the same JUKES who got six dozen on the Walrus from FLINT. Following these are COOKSON, said to be BLACK. MURPHY'S brother (but this was never proved); and GENTLEMAN STARKEY, once an usher in a school; and SKYLIGHTS (Morgan's Skylights); and NOODLER, whose hands are fixed on backwards; and the spectacled boatswain, SMEE, the only Nonconformist in HOOK'S crew; and other ruffians long known and feared on the Spanish main.
Good luck showing those things off!  As the reader, there is a wealth here.  This is a highly enjoyable play to sit and read.  The other element that struck me was just how hard this must be to stage.  There are flying actors, and I believe that this was the first play to do that.  But the other technical things are simply crazy.  The third act takes place in a lagoon.  Most of the action takes place with people going on and off of a rock in the water.  Again, good luck with that!
And I should mention that this is a play that couldn't possibly pass muster today because of its treatment of Native Americans.  This is virtually the only place that I've read about 'redskins' outside of football.  Of course, the story came from JM Barrie's imagination in the mid 19th century, and I'm sure that this treatment was quite in line with its day.  My suggestion is to try and get past that and enjoy the book with the understanding that times have changed.
This is an historic play.  One of the first that was created primarily for children.  Certainly the first of such to become wildly popular.  And that popularity is deserved.  We often face a tension between becoming more grown up and keeping our childlike wonder.  Peter Pan is a great emblem of that struggle.  We can easily understand the desire to stay in our childlike lives (at least I can!).  But we also see that the boys absolutely must move on.  Peter Pan, himself, is not a sympathetic character.  He's cruel and cold and callous.  We might want to remain young, but not at that price!

Next up: 'The King's the Best Magistrate' by Lope de Vega.  (Well maybe.  I'm having a devil of a time finding any kind of English translation.)

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't find any English translations of The King's the Best Magistrate. I did download it in Spanish on my Kindle but I don't think I'll have the time to stumble through it. I am participating in a Summer Language Challenge (reading books in different languages), so I might give this one a try then. No promises though! :-)