J M Berrie's Peter Pan -- essay

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It is Dudgeon's hypothesis through this bizarre methodology that the author Barrie and Kicky actually met and somehow Kicky demonstrated his power of psychic perception to Berrie, which of course fascinates Berrie. After becoming very interested in Kicky's powers Berrie than attempts to emulate those powers and in doing so gives Dudgeon's book its own mysterious glow (Haslin).

Once Berrie has become acquainted with the boys he becomes, according to Dudgeon's book, "Uncle Jim" to them. Soon Berrie (AKA Uncle Jim) succeeds in alienating the lovely Sylvia from her husband, and takes "borderline-pornographic photographs of her sons," and proceeds with his own apparently diabolic methodology to "immortalize" the boys as "delightful fictitious characters" (Haslin). Worse yet, and this goes well beyond the assumptions in the movie starring Johnny Depp, Berrie "forges a draft of Sylvia's will" in order to take possession of the boys and raise them the way he wants to raise them.

The book was not available for this paper, but Haslin explains that author Dudgeon "Blends scholarship, name-dropping and scandal-seeking heavy breathing"; moreover, Haslin continues, Dudgeon is "eager to point out that this is something spookier than celebrity pedophilia."

The implications and insinuations that author Dudgeon brings to the table include the notion that Berrie "dooms at least two of the five to suicidal melancholy" (Haslin). Why did Berrie do what he did? Why would a successful author turn to warped, wrong-headed practices with young boys? By bringing Freud and Jung into the picture Dudgeon suggests that Barrie's "perverse nature" is due to the bad treatment he received from his mother. Dudgeon offers that "maternal rejection is a terrible thing" that can "destroy a child's self-esteem" (Haslin).

Notwithstanding those psychological problems and the root of those issues for Berrie, Dudgeon claims that Berrie realized he could be "a controlling force, at least in his own world of illusion" (Haslin). Dudgeon is not satisfied to lay the blame for Berrie's unorthodox behavior towards young boys on Berrie's mother; Dudgeon also hints that Berrie may have been disturbed by the death of his own brother David, going on to suggest that Berrie may have become guilty over his brother's passing simply because perhaps Berrie had a hand in it.

Regarding the issue of Berrie's less than perfect relationship with his mother it is possible (without going to deeply into Freudian psychotherapy) to place Peter's "estrangement from the mother imago" square in Berrie's mother's lap. The methodology that is employed by Berrie, according to Richard Rotert, is psychologically based. The "barred window excludes Peter as a participant" in the mother-child nursery scene, according to critic Rotert (Rotert, 1990). And in denying his own manhood, Peter also denies "the possibility of a mature, loving relationship with any of the female characters" in the story (Rotert). The idea of Peter denying his manhood was a result of his "prior displacement from the nursery," Rotert explains. Peter's "instinctual desire for the feminine, which would normally shift from the mother to a lover, was arrested at an infantile stage" (Rotert).

Moreover, Rotert goes on, Peter develops a neurotic compulsion against adults: grown-ups were "spoiling everything" and so when Peter went into his tree he breathed "intentionally quick short breaths of about five to a second" (Rotert). Peter breathed in this manner because in Neverland, "every time you breathe a grown-up dies"; hence he wanted to kill them off as quickly as possible (Rotert).

Was J.M. Berrie "still a child, absolutely," when he wrote the play Peter Pan? Theater reviewer Max Beerbohm wrote in The Saturday Review, London in 1905 that "Mr. Barrie…is something even more rare" than a genius. He is "a child who, by some divine grace, can express through an artistic medium the childishness that is in him" (Beerbohm). Besides being a child Berrie has "a second passport… he too, even pre-eminently, adores children" and "never ceases to study them and their little ways, and to purr sentimental paeans over them," Beerbohm goes on. Certainly Beerbohm, who reviewed the play shortly after it opened at the Duke of York Theatre, could not have been privy to the dark matter in Berrie's background biography (and of course the novel was not published at that time). The way Beerbohm gushes at Berrie's child-like theme, he too seems to become a believer in dreams and magic. "Our dreams are nearer to us than our childhood," he explains, and it is "natural" that Peter Pan "should remind us more instantly of our dreams than of our childish fancies" (Beerbohm).

Among the scholarly research into methodologies in Berrie's novel, Holly Blackford seems to have hit on a thorny one: the "parallels" between Wuthering Heights and Peter Pan "are intensely revealing" (Blackford, 2005). She doesn't assert that Berrie plagiarized or copied the characters and plot from the 1847 novel by Emilie Bronte. But the implications jump out at readers like a jack-in-the-box; to wit, both novels feature "spectral children lurking at the windows because they are in perpetual exile from the tale-telling world of adults" and both feature "boys perpetually fixated on and unable to accept the women their childhood lovers become" (Blackford, p. 119). In the play Peter Pan Mrs. Darling "is startled to see a strange little face outside the window and a hand groping as if it wanted to come in (20)." Similarly, in the "Satanic childhood romance of Wuthering Heights, Mr. Lockwood dreams of 'a little, ice-cold hand' scratching at the window for entry, a 'child's face looking through the window'" (Blackford, p. 120).

Both novels "harbor issues of female desire for youths who cannot follow them into the windowed worlds they grow into," Blackford explains (119). And Neverland and Wuthering Heights "have tremendous significance in both novels" because both feature "rival male and female storytellers"; there are similar "tensions between the narrator of Peter and Wendy and Mrs. Darling" and the tensions between "Lockwood and Nelly Dean" in Wuthering Heights. And in both novels, "Abandoned children lie at the root of favored tales of human development," Blackford advises. Ironic? Coincidence? Did Berrie use another author's methods to portray his characters and entice his readers? The jury is out, but literature has a long shelf life so others may offer new insights on an old story, and no reader should ever be surprised by what is revealed.

Works Cited

Barrie, James Matthew, and Unwin, Nora Spicer (editor). Peter Pan. New York: Scribner, 1950.

Beerbohm, Max. "The Child Barrie." The Saturday Review, London. 99.2567 (1905): 13-14.

(Source: Children's Literature Review, Ed. Gerald J. Snick, Vol. 16 [1989]).

Blackford, Holly. "Mrs. Darling's Scream: The Rites of Persephone in Peter and Wendy and Wuthering Heights." Studies in the Humanities 32.2 (2005): 116-142.

Maslin, Janet. "For Starters, A Satanic Svengali." The New York Times, 159.54840 (2009)

Rotert, Richard. "The Kiss in a Box." Children's Literature Vol. 18 (1990): 114-123.

(Source: Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Eds.…[continue]

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