Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shadow of a Doubt

Don’t you just love Peter Pan’s shadow?
How it moves around like a living entity all its own?
I don’t.

Sorry to rain on the balloon, but I’m going to have to pop the parade.

The “living shadow” does not appear in the play Peter Pan nor does it happen in the book Peter and Wendy. It’s yet another concoction of the House of Mouse. And a slightly (pun noted) damaging one at that, for the free-roaming silhouette has become part of pop culture. (Much like the ruby slippers of Oz.) The mischievous moving shadow even shows up in P.J. Hogan’s version. In fact, he devotes quite a bit of time to it. (Time which might have been spent putting some other aspect of the book onto the screen.)

Please don’t take offense to me pointing it out that it’s not correct. I’ll grant you that it’s a charming idea. But don’t forget that I’m a Pan purist. It’s just my nature to sigh at misrepresentation.

You may now be wondering what DOES happen according to Barrie. You probably remember some of it correctly: Peter’s shadow is snapped off when Nana slams the window down on it as he is escaping from the Darlings’ home. Now for the parts you might not know. Mrs. Darling finds it in Nana’s mouth (after checking for a little boy’s body outside as she saw him leap out a window). She keeps it, rolls it up and stuffs it in a drawer. (You likely remember the drawer.) But what you probably don’t recall is Mrs. Darling's intial inclination. At first she hangs it out the window: He is sure to come back for it; let us put it where he can get it easily without disturbing the children. The narrator goes on to say: But unfortunately Mrs. Darling could not leave it hanging out at the window, it looked so like the washing and lowered the whole tone of the house. So you see, in Barrie’s vision, a shadow does not behave like an inky flat person of free-will. It’s rather like a piece of laundry. I know what you may be thinking…what with all the magic that Peter Pan has been exposed to, wouldn’t his shadow have obtained magical qualities? No, apparently not: You may be sure Mrs. Darling examined the shadow carefully, but it was quite the ordinary kind.
Again, sorry to have debunked Disney’s touch for those who liked it. But let us assume that it is a sentient shadow for a moment. It’s just not logical (outside of it being utterly fantastical). What happens to the shadow when it is re-attached to Peter? It behaves normally, so… does that mean it is now dead, so to speak? Or is it still “alive” and a slave to Pan’s motions? Either notion is creepy. It just doesn’t work, if you ask me.

Now it’s entirely possible that Barrie himself would have relished this idea. If stage effects had been sophisticated enough to have produced a living shadow, would he have wanted one? (Chances are it could be easily accomplished with a scrim and backlighting.) Animation had been in its infancy when the play premiered in 1904. Barrie probably would not have readily thought to produce an animated Pan. And if he had, it would have remained silent anyway. So we are left wondering whether or not he would have enjoyed the “living shadow” concept. There is no way to know for sure. However, I'll admit that it does indeed have a Barriesque quality.

For Peter Pan’s NeverWorld, I decided to make a compromise. Since the idea is in fact ingrained into popular culture but nevertheless incorrect, how could I reconcile the two, as it were? I solved it thus: Peter’s shadow is again “lost” when he arrives on NeverWorld and it is roaming around freely. Did I go against my own rant? No. You see, the shadow is not willfully flitting around. Rather it’s being blown about by the wind. Naturally, I couldn't simply separate him from it without cause. As for what that reason is or how Peter Pan is re-acquainted with his pesky shadow… you’ll have to read the book to find out, of course.

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