“I’m not like you. I’m normal. You are mentally ill.”
–Dr. Max Bergman, Hawaii 5-O
“The difference between him 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.”
-J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
As of last year, I had never read Peter Pan. I’d seen the Disney movie, I’d read Peter and the Starcatcher, and I knew the general Peter Pan mythos. But I’d never gotten around to picking up the original book and enjoying it for myself.
So imagine my surprise when, as a college graduate, my Neverland ideas were shattered. I loved the book, make no mistake. But I was caught up in the horror of realizing that somewhere in the past couple decades, I’ve grown up.
Reading Peter Pan as an adult feels a lot more like reading something from a Dahlian world. (Side note: If you haven’t enjoyed the whimsical terror of Roald Dahl, I recommend you change that immediately. You’re probably at least vaguely familiar with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Other masterpieces include The BFG and The Witches). Where was I? Ah, the frightening world of Neverland.
As an adult, it’s hard not to see Peter’s tyrannical rule, which required the Lost Boys to obey his eternally childish whims. The Boys go days without food at times. Wendy and her brothers are essentially captives, not permitted to leave. One starts to wonder if Peter might be the villain of this story after all.
Of course, Peter’s capricious attitude is what we love about him as children. The boundary between make-believe and true is much more vague for little ones. While the Lost Boys felt the pinch of hunger, the little readers don’t. Besides, as children, we don’t imagine ourselves as the lost boys. No, we are the Peters of our own stories.
As a young girl were tangential knowledge of the Peter Pan stories, I thought he was wonderful. Who would ever want to grow up? When can I get to Neverland? But now, as a full-grown adult with almost a year of teaching under my belt, I see things differently. I’ve lived in a Neverland of sorts, trying to straddle the worlds of childhood and adulthood. And while the blurred lines of make-believe and real life were good for a time, I’m ready to move on and leave some of that dreaming for my own little ones.
I suppose I will always have one eye on Neverland. I’ll never stop dreaming, for to stop dreaming is to lose hope. But my dreams are changing now. I don’t dream for mermaids and pirate ships and a boy named Peter Pan. And that’s okay. Neverland was made for children for a reason.
“What words could you use which would give another the experience of sunshine?”
–Lois Lowry, The Giver
This is the true mystery of The Giver. The true wonder of writing. Because the Giver has a point. There are no words to capture what sunshine is, nor even the words to recreate the simple pleasure of sledding down a hill on a sunny day. Experience trumps art, it seems. Or perhaps not.
I was thinking earlier today about the difference between a scientist and an artist, or more particularly, a poet. How does a scientist look at a town when asked to map it? And how does a poet map that same town?
I suspect the scientist would see a world of pattern, a city which–given enough time–would repeat the same cycles over and over. People walk through the same streets at the same times every week. The same shops open on the same days. The streets are set. Naturally, there will be change due to entropy, and change due to development. But for the most part, those are slow, gradual changes. The city is a set of patterns. There is nothing particularly spectacular about it. The map will be finished quickly, and important patterns noted in a report.
But, oh! To the poet, the city is restless. Seen just a few minutes later or earlier, in different lighting, in a different mood–the city changes. It lives as its inhabitants do. There are steady points and wild ones, places that remain constant throughout the weeks and those that change even as I watch them. The map will constantly evolve. In the margins, the poet will scribble strange words that have nothing to do with mapping. The finished product will be much more like a puzzle than a map. But it will be beautiful.
And to walk through that city that was already mapped–that is a completely different experience. The walker can see how the scientist’s map shows the way and how the poet’s map paints the skies. But the walker, the one experiencing the town, has a unique view. That walker lives what the poet and the scientist have described.
And yet somehow, the scientist’s map and the poet’s puzzle are helpful, even necessary. We need someone to show us the way through the city. The scientist does that. We need someone to shake us out of our routines. The poet does that. We need someone to accompany us through the dark streets and to share a cup of coffee with. The walker does that. Not everyone can be scientist, poet, and walker–only a very few brilliant and blessed minds. So while it may be regrettable that not everyone can feel the warmth of the sun while lying on a grassy hill, I don’t think we can’t experience some of the same pleasure just by reading what the scientist and the poet have to say. Each view is different and provides a distinct pleasure. But the walker, the poet, and the scientistall create something beautiful.
Vanamond: You’ve done your part! You fixed the castle! The Doom Bell rang! At this point, what else can you do?
Agatha looks at statue of her heroic father and uncle
Agatha: Wrong question. I am the Heterodyne. MY town is under attack. The question is: WHAT CAN’T I DO?
–Girl Genius, Comic here
Yesterday, I was teaching a middle school class about heroes in literature.
One of the chiefest things about heroes that fascinates me is the search for belonging; Whether one becomes a hero to protect where you belong, or to find a place to belong, a hero’s home is an important part of the journey.
This probably resonates so deeply with me because for so long I had no place to belong. From the time I was born to turning twelve, I never knew how long I would be in one place, and whether it was actually home. We lived in rented homes and apartments, and never really were completely settled. I cried more when we got rid of our car than when we moved.
Now I am grown, and living with my parents in the same home we have lived in for ten years. Although I would like my own place, I am in no hurry to leave–I have my own room, my own bookshelves. I know that when I wake up the ceiling will not look strange and unfamiliar.
Home is a powerful word. For it, wars have been fought, songs have been sung, great books have been written. It is perhaps because none of us are ever really home. Even here, in my home, I have no guarantee that a hurricane will not sweep away everything familiar and cast me adrift. I am not truly secure.
The longing for home, for security and belonging, this is maybe the most universal thing.
So I ask:
For YOUR home, for YOUR place,
What would you NOT do?
“I looked at his grave and, with tears in my eyes, I voiced these words: ‘You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.’”
—Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows
If you don’t know whose grave the narrator’s looking at, stop right now. Go read the book and come back. I don’t want to ruin the ending. Continue reading “To My Old Friend”
Fight with me. If you die, die for something that’s yours.
This movie is DEFINITELY worth your time if: Continue reading “Winter’s War: Trailers are a Lie”
“There is something at the same time both embarrassing and heartwarming about seeing your handwriting from when you were fifteen.”
–Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
If I’m remembering correctly, we’ve featured Mr. Gaiman on this blog before. However, given his brilliance as a writer, I think it doesn’t hurt to visit another of his works. Gaiman’s Trigger Warning is a rich collection of humor and terror and profundity. There’s everything from poetry to flash fiction to an introduction that’s actually worth the read. And if that’s not enough to interest you, there’s a Doctor Who story. I’ll just step aside for a moment and let the fandom stampede by. Continue reading “On the Handwriting of My Younger Self”