“Make-Believe and True”

“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.

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