How Peter Pan Treats the Lost Boys, Wendy, and Tinkerbell

Many claim to know the story of Peter Pan, but here’s a short recap if it’s been some time since you read it:   Peter Pan takes Wendy and her brothers to Neverland, where they meet the Lost Boys, fairies, and other magical creatures.   They have a few adventures while they are there until they are kidnapped by the evil pirates under the command of Captain Hook.  Peter rescues the group and returns Wendy and her brothers to their home.

For the purposes of this post, I am only drawing from the original novel by J. M. Barrie because the cleaned-up movies from our childhoods overlook much of Pan’s darker side.

We all know that Peter Pan kills pirates.  I get it, they’re the bad guys.  That’s not up for discussion.  Instead, let’s take a closer look at how Peter Pan treats those closest to him:  The Lost Boys, Wendy, and Tinker Bell.


 

The Lost Boys

"... and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out." - PETER PAN, J. M. Barrie

“… and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out.” – PETER PAN, J. M. Barrie

Peter’s Lost Boys are his troop of soldiers and playmates.  Like any general, Peter Pan makes rules for them to follow, albeit far weirder and harsher than most people know.

Appearance

They are forbidden by Peter to look in the least like him. (Chapter 5)

Knowledge

Peter never quite knew what twins were, and his band were not allowed to know anything he did not know, so these two were always vague about themselves, and did their best to give satisfaction by keeping close together in an apologetic sort of way. (Chapter 5)

Speech

It was only in Peter’s absence that they could speak of mothers, the subject being forbidden by him as silly. (Chapter 5)

Play

The difference between him [Peter] and the other boys at such a time was that they knew it was make-believe, while to him make-believe and true were exactly the same thing. This sometimes troubled them, as when they had to make-believe that they had had their dinners.  If they broke down in their make-believe he rapped them on the knuckles. (Chapter 6)

Thins Them Out

A rap on the knuckles wasn’t the worst form of punishment that Peter handed down on his Lost Boys.  There are several sections in the book that suggest that he routinely killed Lost Boys, or at least maimed them.

All wanted blood except the boys, who liked it as a rule, but to-night were out to greet their captain. 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; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two. (Chapter 5)

The “thins them out” quote is a common reference.  Some feel that it means that he brings Lost Boys back to where they came from, but other quotes suggest simpler solutions.  The best example of this is when Tootles shot Wendy with an arrow because he mistook her for a bird (and because Tinker Bell tricked him and Peter didn’t escort Wendy to the island safely).  Peter discovered Wendy’s supposedly dead body and raised an arrow to stab Tootles out of anger.

“Oh, dastard hand,” Peter said, and he raised the arrow to use it as a dagger.

Tootles did not flinch. He bared his breast. “Strike, Peter,” he said firmly, “strike true.”

Twice did Peter raise the arrow, and twice did his hand fall. “I cannot strike,” he said with awe, “there is something stays my hand.”

All looked at him in wonder, save Nibs, who fortunately looked at Wendy. (Chapter 6)

The wild part is that all of the Lost Boys are shocked that Peter didn’t kill him.  Even Peter is surprised that he didn’t stab Tootles to death.  This quote, more than any other, suggests that it was common practice for Peter Pan to kill the children who depended on him for survival.

You Simply Must Fit

Horrors come in all forms and this next one is called callous mutilation.  The trees that Peter and the Lost Boys use to slide into their hideout are hollow and each child has his or her own tree.  That, in itself, is not a problem.  The horror comes when a child doesn’t fit their tree.

But you simply must fit, and Peter measures you for your tree as carefully as for a suit of clothes: the only difference being that the clothes are made to fit you, while you have to be made to fit the tree. Usually it is done quite easily, as by your wearing too many garments or too few, but if you are bumpy in awkward places or the only available tree is an odd shape, Peter does some things to you, and after that you fit. Once you fit, great care must be taken to go on fitting, and this, as Wendy was to discover to her delight, keeps a whole family in perfect condition. (Chapter 7)

Some will argue that the “perfect condition” phrase means that they are working out to stay in shape.  If some kids need to lose weight to fit a tighter tree, that would be fine.  But that isn’t what is written and no amount of exercise is going to fit your “awkward places” into a tree with an “odd shape.”


 

Peter and Wendy

"The awful thing was that Peter thought this funny." - PETER PAN, J. M. Barrie

“The awful thing was that Peter thought this funny.” – PETER PAN, J. M. Barrie

The romance between Wendy and Peter Pan is a one-sided lie.  It is true that Peter said that “one girl is worth twenty boys,” but he only said this to convince her to join him in Neverland.  He intrigued her by saying that she can do motherly things for him and his Lost Boys like tucking them in and telling them stories.  Once her told her what she wanted to hear, she was his.

“Oh, the stories I could tell to the boys!” she cried, and then Peter gripped her and began to draw her toward the window. (Chapter 3)

Not only did he not protect her well when she was in Neverland (remember the arrow to the chest and the kidnapping?), he didn’t even watch out for her on the way to Neverland.  While leading Wendy and her brothers to Neverland, Peter would fly off to have other side adventures.  He’d return to them, having already forgotten who they were.

Indeed, sometimes when he returned he did not remember them, at least not well. Wendy was sure of it. She saw recognition come into his eyes as he was about to pass them the time of day and go on; once even she had to call him by name. (Chapter 4)

Worse yet, Peter had little regard for their safety as they flew beside him.  When one of them would fall asleep, he’d make a game out of catching them before they died.

Certainly they did not pretend to be sleepy, 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 funny.

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

“Save him, save him!” cried Wendy, looking with horror at the cruel sea far below. Eventually Peter would dive through the air, and catch Michael just before he could strike the sea, and it was lovely the way he did it; but he always waited till the last moment, and you felt it was his cleverness that interested him and not the saving of human life. Also he was fond of variety, and the sport that engrossed him one moment would suddenly cease to engage him, so there was always the possibility that the next time you fell he would let you go.  (Chapter 4)


 

Tinker Bell

So Peter Pan had little regard for human life.  What about his permanent sidekick, Tinker Bell?  They were inseparable for so long that he had to care about her, right?  Wrong.  After Peter Pan begrudgingly brought Wendy and her brothers home, he promised to take her back to Neverland every spring so that she can clean his house.  She was oddly happy about this and looked forward to catching up with him.  However, by the very next year, Peter Pan had forgotten both Captain Hook and Tinker Bell completely.

She [Wendy] had looked forward to thrilling talks with him about old times, but new adventures had crowded the old ones from his mind.

“Who is Captain Hook?” he asked with interest when she spoke of the arch enemy.

“Don’t you remember,” she asked, amazed, “how you killed him and saved all our lives?”

“I forget them after I kill them,” he replied carelessly.

When she expressed a doubtful hope that Tinker Bell would be glad to see her he said, “Who is Tinker Bell?”

“O Peter,” she said, shocked; but even when she explained he could not remember.

“There are such a lot of them,” he said. “I expect she is no more.”  (Chapter 17)


 

Is Peter Pan a Sociopath?

"They dared not express their wishes to him.  Instant obedience was the only safe thing." - PETER PAN, J. M. Barrie

“They dared not express their wishes to him. Instant obedience was the only safe thing.” – PETER PAN, J. M. Barrie

This, of course, is the big question.  Assuming he would sit still for observation, let’s run through the six qualifying traits for diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder as listed on the md-health.com site.

According to ICD-10 criteria, presence of 3 or more of the following qualifies for the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (~sociopathy):

  1. Callous unconcern for the feelings of others.
  2. Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, and obligations.
  3. Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them.
  4. Very low tolerance to frustration, a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence.
  5. Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment.
  6. Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalization for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.

Even though all he needed was “3 or more” of the traits on that list to qualify, there is evidence in J. M. Barrie’s original novel for each of the six.  However, there are problems with diagnosing this fictional character.

  1. I am not a professional in the field of psychology, nor do I claim to be.
  2. Peter Pan doesn’t age but may still qualify as a juvenile.

In children and teenagers (age <18 years), the “sociopathy traits” are diagnosed as conduct disorder. Conduct disorder diagnosis is changed to antisocial personality disorder if the traits persist even after attaining the age of 18 years. (md-health.com, 2015)

Peter Pan could very well be over one hundred years old, but is still a child for all intents and purposes.  Fortunately (unfortunately?) there are warning signs of deeper psychological issues aside from the disregard for and killing of others.

Peter Pan’s Night Terrors

Sometimes, though not often, he had dreams, and they were more painful than the dreams of other boys. For hours he could not be separated from these dreams, though he wailed piteously in them. (Chapter 13)

Although the quote includes the phrase “not often,” he has another episode two chapters later.

He [Peter] fell asleep by the side of Long Tom. He had one of his dreams that night, and cried in his sleep for a long time, and Wendy held him tightly. (Chapter 15)

These events sound quite a bit like night terrors, and the fact that they are recurring could signal larger issues.

A post by Claire Jones on ScienceBasedMedicine.org describes night terrors in the following way:  “The child appears to be sleeping soundly when suddenly they begin screaming. They are red faced and sweat profusely, reflecting the increase in autonomic nervous system activity. Their hearts are racing. They may even jump out of bed as if fleeing from some invisible monster and they are inconsolable or very confused and disoriented if awakened.”

James Gallagher, Health and Science reporter for BBC News, wrote an article in March of 2014 reviewing research by the University of Warwick that suggested a “long-term problem with nightmares and terrors was linked to a higher risk of mental health problems.”  He concludes that the link between night terrors and psychoses is “not clear,” but that “nightmares may act as an early warning sign of future, more serious, problems.”


 

The Curse of Peter Pan

"She started up with a cry, and saw the boy, and somehow she knew at once that he was Peter Pan." PETER PAN, J. M. Barrie

“She started up with a cry, and saw the boy, and somehow she knew at once that he was Peter Pan.” PETER PAN, J. M. Barrie

When I first read Peter Pan as a child, I was swept away by how fun it would be to join the Lost Boys in Neverland.  Playing games and fighting bad guys all day seemed like the ideal way to spend a childhood.  Twenty years and one child later, I read it again and found that I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It was suggested that the Lost Boys were unwanted in some way, but Wendy and her brothers had loving parents who were devastated by the disappearance of their children.  Wanted or not, these children deserved a better caretaker than the abusive, child-murdering, potentially sociopathic Peter Pan.

It was with all this in mind that I wrote my first book, Captain James Hook and the Curse of Peter Pan.  Along with my co-author, I wanted to pull back the curtain on this much-loved character and show the world how dangerous he truly is.  I am happy with our successes, as this darker perspective has taken root in many written and visual re-imaginings since our book’s publication in June of 2012.


 

Why So Cynical?

It never hurts to take a critical look at what you see everyday.  You may find new ways to understand what you believe you already know so well.  Share or comment below with your thoughts.


 

References


Author’s Note

I was recently made aware that a different blogger posted an article on this topic two months prior to the publication of this one.  These articles are disturbingly similar and I will state plainly that I in no way saw this article prior to writing my post.  What is written above comes directly from my my old notebooks and emails that I shared with my writing partner to justify my rationale for Captain James Hook and the Curse of Peter Pan, a book that we published in 2012.  At the time, I was doing a few interviews and wanted to refer people back to my thoughts in print.  In spite of not having any connection to the other article, I have edited my post’s original title and will paste the link to that post here: Proof that Peter Pan is a Sociopath  Happy Reading!

Why have a sidekick? 4 reasons in 4 minutes

When Jeremy Marshall and I wrote Captain James Hook and the Curse of Peter Pan, we decided that James Hoodkins (the young Hook) should have someone he is responsible for during his adventures (tragedies?).  We did this for a few reasons, but I never thought to explain why sidekicks are so important until now.

First, a definition.  A sidekick is a secondary character who furthers the story.  Although this is an unequal relationship, the sidekick is not a mindless follower.  Sidekicks have goals, dreams, and personalities.

The lazy pick would have been to use Smee.  The two are often paired in cartoons and promotions.  We went a different way and used Billy Jukes.  In Barrie’s Peter Pan, Bill Jukes is a tattooed cutthroat whose past is rumored at best.  We took the seeds of that character and made him the son of a close family friend and the younger brother of James’s love interest, Emily.  When both children (James was 13 and Jukes was 11) were lost at sea and fell in with pirates, James had a reason to keep looking for a way home.

There are inherent advantages to including a sidekick.

READER IDENTIFICATION

When using a sidekick, readers have an opportunity to identify with him or her.  This gives an author a wider range of readership.  Some may have found James Hook cold and a little distant, but liked Billy Jukes’s more reckless behavior.

WAIT.  WHAT HAPPENED?

If a hero is alone and figures out a solution, then he just does what he needs to do and skips the explanation.  If that information is important for the reader to know, you need a second character to draw it out.  This is a classic setup and it worked well with Hook and Jukes.

OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE

This is an advantage if you are writing from multiple perspectives.  Your protagonist can’t see everything.  They operate from a single point of view.   Writing from a sidekick’s POV is a great way to give new information to the reader that you want to hide from the hero and show how wonderful the hero is without the hero sounding arrogant.  We wrote CJH from one POV, but this is a great tool if you decide to use it.

COMPLEMENTARY BEHAVIORS

This is my favorite reason.  As athletic and strong as Billy Jukes was compared to the sickly James Hoodkins, he was two years younger and a far slower thinker than his genius friend.  This made for an interesting brain-and-brawn pairing.  James was the clear leader of the two and there was no problem that their combined skill set couldn’t overcome.

Knights have squires.

Sherlock Holmes has Dr. Watson.

Batman has Robin.

Sidekicks matter.

Putting the SCIENCE in Science Fiction

The basic problems in science fiction revolve around the need to explain yourself to the reader.  It is a trust issue.  Science fiction readers want a certain level of grounding in their stories, otherwise they’d be fantasy readers.  Even then, there has to be an internal consistency to the rules of the magic you are using, especially the rules you make up yourself.  

Below are two areas that require the most attention when writing science fiction.

LIFEFORMS

This planet is perfectly suited to our needs.  Try rereading that sentence, taking notice of how self-centered and foolish it is.  Our needs arose because we developed on this planet and evolved to fit its conditions.  Recreating similar conditions on another planet or finding one that is identical to Earth is unlikely at best.  Even a 5% difference in the air’s oxygen content would dramatically change how (or if) we live our lives.  Different conditions yield different results.

Travel

Stories that take place between star systems require faster-than-light (FTL) travel.  Unless you want to abandon any sort of scientific authority, starships can’t accelerate beyond that limit.  It would take infinite energy just to match that speed and you’d be permanently frozen in (our perception of) time if you reached it.

How do your characters get around this problem?  Different franchises use different methods.  Star Trek uses warp speed to fold distances in space.  Star Wars uses a hyperdrive, as do the ships in the Saga of the Seven Suns.  Babylon5 and others, use wormholes.  The point is that each one has an explanation of how this is done, rooted in some fact or theory.

An author doesn’t have to go too crazy over these ideas, but simple awareness will help maintain credibility.

Is Your World Believable?

Realism is the key factor when creating a setting for your characters.   Readers need to feel as though they share a space within the experience of a story and the only way to do that is to research your setting well.

THE EASY WAY

If the story is in a modern city or town, then most of your work is done.  There are so many nuances of life that escape our notice because we live them every day.  Even so, if your city is in a foreign country, then you still have work to do.  Their customs and norms will shape the environment (and vice versa, depending on what articles you read).

SCI-FI/FANTASY

The more remote your setting, the more work you will need to do to make it believable.  One of my biggest hang-ups is the single-biome world.  Star Wars is famous for this.  Tatooine, the desert planet, would have no breathable oxygen, as would the ice world, Hoth.  Conversely, the forest moon of Endor would be too oxygen rich for human life.  This doesn’t even go into livable temperature ranges or anything else that should be considered.  Kevin Anderson’s careful work in the Saga of the Seven Suns series balances realism in his off-world settings.

QUICK TIPS

  1. Find a model location.  This will give you a starting point.
  2. Read everything you can about the types of plant and animal life that are common as well as typical weather conditions.
  3. Visit if you can.  Experience is the best teacher for any writer.  If you can’t afford a ticket, you can afford a YouTube search.
  4. Get creative.  Now that you know the area, isolate defining signatures of the location.  For general fiction, that may be all you need.  For the fantastic, you will need to exaggerate your jungle setting to include extremes like in the “Avatar” movie.

Building a Better Fictional World in 3 Minutes or Less

Step one is complete and you have a full view of the world in which your characters live and die.  Maps and genealogical charts hang over your desk.  Social hierarchies are established.  Palaces and alien races are named and given histories of their own.  Now comes the hard part.

How do you present this world to your reader in a way that isn’t boring?

CHARACTER TYPES

An easy technique is to have the reader learn about the world alongside the characters.  The process of discovery works for coming of age characters, strangers to the world, and discoverers.  The type of characters you choose for your story shapes how the world is viewed, however.  A twelve-year-old mutant teen is going to have a different perspective than a retired cop.  

STORY STRUCTURE

Understanding point of view helps with structure.  First person narration allows for asides and gives an intimate emotional connection to events.  These reactions tell the reader how the character feels and (more subtly) what the character feels her feelings should be in a situation.  Meta-emotions are the stuff of great internal conflict and tell the reader about that world’s societal norms.  On the other end, the sprawling multi-character epic is a point of view choice that gives the reader smaller chunks of the world.  This helps spread the burden over multiple characters’ shoulders.  

CHARACTER DIALOGUE

Slipping exposition into dialogue is a great technique if done well.  In order to pull this off, a character needs a reason to talk about a topic.  This has to be more than a simple explanation.  I am a teacher, but I won’t randomly talk to the teacher next door about her grading system.  It is a topic we both know too well too be interested in unless we’re challenged.  Perhaps the new principal has a system that he prefers and insists that all of the teacher use.  That is a great reason to compare the new system with the old one and build the world of that school climate.

HIGH-CONTEXT AND LOW-CONTEXT CONVERSATIONS

There is a difference between high-context and low-context conversations.  High-context conversations happen between characters with a rich common history.  There is usually little that hasn’t already been said between these characters and an information dump would be awkward.  Examples of these relationships are older married couples and long-time co-workers.  Conversely, low-context conversations are between characters with little or no history and are in a “getting to know you” stage of their relationship, whether friendly or antagonistic. Either of these relationships can be manipulated to give information about the greater world, but both should be recognized.

AVOID PAGES OF EXPOSITION

If at all possible, try to use these methods to build the world around your characters.  To read more about this topic, try my earlier post on World Building.

When to Research and Why?

People hear “research” and their eyes glass over.  No doubt, the problem lies in how the word was used in our high school classrooms.  Flashes of lame topics and MLA formatting still wake me some nights.  Fortunately, the Internet has made information much more accessible and focused. There is a need to be wary regarding the quality of sources online, but that will be covered in a different post.

This post isn’t about how to research.  It is about when and why.

WHY RESEARCH?

People need to trust that the story they’re reading makes sense.   This doesn’t mean that the story needs to be a narrative thesis paper.  Stories do have to be internally consistent and meet logical expectations.  Historical fantasies need to be at least modestly historically accurate and science fiction has to follow and expand upon modern cutting edge theory. These expectations have to be met and readers will disconnect if you do not make the effort.

WHEN TO RESEARCH?

The simple answer to this question is: Research when you don’t know something.   Writers who don’t research are often torn to pieces by critical readers who do.

Even when writing fiction, it is impossible to ignore basic facts that surround a situation.  How many guns does a brig have?  What is the bilge of a three-masted ship?  What year did Blackbeard raid Charles Town?  These questions haunted me when I wrote my first book and their answers were required knowledge for the plot I crafted.

The times in which you don’t have to research are when they deal with locations, character types, and events that are completely self-generated.  If your books are composed of made-up histories and laws of existence, then the burden is on you to make sure that the world makes sense.  This is part of the need to remain internally consistent.   Even though you don’t have to look up any information, the rules you set for your world are a promise to the reader that you won’t cheat your way out of a problem.  

When is it okay to change an existing work?

This week, I received an Amazon “Kindle Quality Notice.”  It stated that Captain James Hook and the Curse of Peter Pan had internal errors in which “at least one” reader reported.  The errors weren’t related to formatting or appropriateness in content.  It was about an alleged typo.   Now, to be fair, some of my readers have found keystroke mistakes before and their input is always welcome.  Still, a man is innocent until proven guilty, so I investigated.  

DISCOVERY

The Kindle Quality Notice stated: There are typos in your book. You can see examples of this error at the following location(s): Kindle location: 577; Error description: “I led.” should be “I lied.”

This seemed like an open and shut case until I opened the document and read the whole section.  It is at the start of Chapter 8, when Peter meets James for the second time.

“I’m Peter Pan,” the child said proudly. He was standing on the mast as if it were the floorboards of the deck. I had seen him fly before and although this was nothing new, I was still amazed.

“I’m James,” I told him. It didn’t bother me that I had to reintroduce myself. “We’ve met before.” His blank expression told me of his genuine surprise that we knew each other. “We played weeks ago in my room in Port Royal.”

“Oh,” was all he said, as if bored already. I decided to retell one of the adventures in my literature books as if it were one of ours.

“Did I say my room?” I led. “I meant we played in a magical forest.” His head turned and bent to the side with interest. “You and I had a jolly time robbing wealthy carriages and saving England from the evil prince and his sheriff.” His eyes burst with excitement as I retold the whole adventure.

This wasn’t a typo.  Although “lied” would fit, I purposely chose “led” because young Hook leads Peter in the conversation.  Looking  back, there are other things I would love to change about my writer’s voice from that time, but that word isn’t wrong.  The question is whether it is distracting.

WORD CHOICE

The problem develops from one of an alleged typo to one about a word choice.   James leads Peter in this conversation, but do enough people read it that way or do they see that word as an oddity?  If it gets in the way of the flow of the story, then it doesn’t serve its purpose and it doesn’t belong.  However, the story is nearly one year old and this is a change that is not necessary.  The Artist in me is offended a the idea of making an unneeded change to my work.  The part of me that wants to sell books is more eager to appease any request.  What to do?

VERDICT

I decided to keep it as it is.  If this were a genuine typo, I’d change it, but the section above is narrated by an older James Hook and his voice has to show through.   He would have no problem saying that he “led” his one-time friend this way and that, not as a boast, but to demonstrate his superiority without expressly saying so.  That is good form, after all.