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.

Cut Through Writing Myths

At the start of a school year, teachers experience a rush of excitement.  We also experience an avalanche of work that wasn’t there just a few days ago.  Schedules, standards, paperwork, student names, grading, lesson plans, paperwork, classroom setup, and paperwork drown out anything else going on in our lives.  It is a joy and I am thrilled to be in education.  I am also grateful for my short break from writing because it has given me a chance to look back on some really terrible common myths I found in most “how to” writing books.

Myths about Perspective and Point of View

Myth: Limit your point of view characters to three but never have only one.  Too many characters confuse the reader and having only one will lack depth.

My Truth:  Use however many perspectives it will take to tell your story.  Kevin Anderson’s Saga of the Seven Suns and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones have a dozen POV characters.  Jeff Lindsay wrote five Dexter novels from within his main character’s mind.  Side Note: You should always keep a single perspective within a scene or you WILL confuse a reader.

Myths about Grammar

Myth: You should always write using correct grammar.

My Truth:  Learn correct grammar and punctuation.  This way, when you need to write dialogue, dialect, or artful prose, you know what rules you are breaking.  Failing to learn doesn’t make your writing quirky or unique.  It makes you seem illiterate.

Myths about Exposition

Myth: Avoid exposition in the form of information dumps.

My Truth: Exposition is important.  Information dumps, like the opening paragraphs in a Star Wars movie, rarely work well.  If you find yourself explaining too much, you probably missed an opportunity to hint at your topic earlier in the story.  Go back and plant seeds in the first few chapters if you want a garden in the final scene.

Myths about Sequence

Myth: Always write in a logical progression of thought and avoid flashbacks.

My Truth: Tell this to the writers of the Highlander or Once Upon a Time TV series.  I know that television is a different medium, but good writing is good writing.  Whatever structure best fits your story is the one that you should use.

BOOKS WORTH READING

In the end, there are only a few good books on how to write well.  Stephen King’s On Writing is the most useful. Another worthy mention is: Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish with Confidence, by Roz Morris. This is a great book for structure and manuscript resuscitation.

When is it a novel and when is it a short story?

Aside from the length of the work, there are many factors that separate a short story from a novel.

RIGHT FROM THE START

The first line of a short story should bring readers right into the action.    The opening of a novel has more to accomplish.  Even though the plot doesn’t have to be introduced in the first chapter, there are world-building tasks that normalize the setting, introduce characters, and establish tone.

CHARACTERS

There are fewer characters in a short story than in a novel.  In general, short stories are limited to one point of view with under ten people running around.  Since these characters populate a tight space, each one has a specific job to do and run the risk of becoming caricatures of their roles.  Novels can dedicate whole scenes about character development without pushing the plot along.

PLOT COMPLEXITY

Since length is the prime difference maker between short stories and novels, it is no surprise that the plot structure is affected.   Plot, much like characters and setting, have to be laser focused in a short story.  No detours.  No extensive red herrings.  At best, there is room for one or two good twists that are directly related to the advancing plot.  This is a blessing as much as it is a hindrance because it is as easy to stray too far from the plot in a novel as it is to be overly simplistic in a short story.

Using these touchstones, you can better gauge whether your idea is best told as a short story or as a novel.

The Tools of a Fiction Author in Three Minutes or Less

Every now and again, it is good to review the basics.  

Fiction writers have an advantage over authors of other mediums in that they have complete control over their stories.  Theater and television authors work with directors, actors, and producers, but the responsibility of total ownership means that a writer of fiction has to do the job of bringing the idea of the story to life. 

This is a short list of tools that the fiction author uses.

DIALOGUE is the act of having two or more characters speak to one another. It is the most easily recognized device because it is used in fiction, plays, movies, and television. A lot can be done with dialogue, but even more can be done to it.

DESCRIPTION, ACTION, THOUGHTS, and EXPOSITION are devices that playwrights and screenplay writers don’t have access to because these jobs are taken by the actors, directors, and producers I wrote about earlier.

DESCRIPTION is what an author uses to color a scene. This can be about the setting, the action, or a character’s thoughts. Without me advocating for the overuse of adverbs, description tells the reader whether a piece of dialogue was said casually, calmly, angrily, or giddily.

ACTION shows the reader what is happening. Remember, no one has to get punched in the face for it to be considered action. All movement is action and how it is written shows as much about a character’s mood and intentions as any dialogue could.

Character THOUGHTS establish perspective and orient the reader to the point of view with which you want them to identify. This helps make your lead characters more sympathetic, especially if they are difficult to like in the first place.

EXPOSITION tells the reader what is happening instead of showing them. This isn’t always best, but it works if there is a lot of information that a reader needs to know to understand the scene.

Armed with these basics, the fiction author shapes every aspect of his or her story.

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.

Stronger Story Openings in Under Thirty Seconds

Your opening is an introduction to who you are as a writer. The first 100 words are precious real estate that set the tone for the rest of the story. Reader engagement is critical and here is the quickest pathway to achieve that goal.

RIGHT FROM THE START

Story beginnings have to accomplish several goals. When in doubt, remember that information is far more important to the audience than action. Readers need to know a character’s sex, age, occupation, handicaps, and reason for being this story’s protagonist. Setting is needed for the sake of orienting a reader to the surroundings and time period. There also should be a suggestion of what the overall problem is in the story. All of these things don’t need to be explained fully, but there should be a sense of understanding.

SENSORY IMAGERY

Readers want to feel swept away into a story and this is one of the simplest ways to do it. I am a visual person and force myself to use auditory, tactile, and olfactory details. Use as many of the senses as are fitting to the scene.

BE DIRECT

Strong nouns and verbs are better than a dozen adjectives and adverbs. This is a standing piece of advice, but it is even more important when working within the first 100 words. A “construction worker” brings more of an image to mind than a “man” does. When that worker steps into a kitchen, a far clearer picture is made than when a man walks into a room.

Readers don’t always judge a book by its cover, but most will judge a story by its first 100 words.