Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One Night, Also in the Nursery...

The dream by itself would have been a trifle, but while she was dreaming the window of the nursery blew open, and a boy did drop on the floor. He was accompanied by a strange light, no bigger than your fist, which darted about the room like a living thing and I think it must have been this light that wakened Mrs. Darling.

She started up with a cry, and saw the boy, and somehow she knew at once that he was Peter Pan. If you or I or Wendy had been there we should have seen that he was very like Mrs. Darling’s kiss... ...Mrs. Darling screamed, and, as if in answer to a bell, the door opened, and Nana entered, returned from her evening out. She growled and sprang at the boy, who leapt lightly through the window.
- Sir J.M. Barrie, Peter and Wendy

The above is one of my favorite scenes from the novel of Peter Pan. Often in fantasy, children are the only ones who experience the supernormal. But here, Barrie specifically tells us that Mrs. Mary Darling saw Peter Pan. We also know that she had been aware of his existence. At first Mrs. Darling did not know, but after thinking back into her childhood she just remembered a Peter Pan who was said to live with the fairies. There were odd stories about him... It's understandable, then, why she would scream. Oh sure, who wouldn't when confronted with a leaf-clad boy suddenly in the room at night? But I don't think that is the entire reason for her crying out. Just imagine it. There, before you, is a childhood story come true. And I don't mean in the sense of Peter Pan as it is a story in our world such as on stage, in a book or on film. Within the world of Barrie, those don't exist. Yet stories are passed down about the little boy who wouldn't grow up. She had believed in him at the time, but now that she was married and full of sense she quite doubted whether there was any such person. Pan's a legend. Thus, it must have been quite a rush of conflicting emotions seeing him.

The scene is both in the play and not. In Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, Mary has a scene in which she catches sight of a boy at the window. Later she tells her husband George. He dismisses the notion. She goes on, saying how she had seen him before and proceeds to describe the events of the above excerpt.

I don't know about you, but I am fascinated by this part of the novel. With more freedom in a book, Barrie chose to include it as an actual event, rather than a recount by Mary. What a thrilling danger element it brings to the story. Without a doubt, we are shown there is a Peter Pan. And he is stalking the house. The "threat" is real. Would you want to be in Mary Darling's tumbling mindset as she leaves the house on that fateful Friday? I think not. Poor dear!

Yet I have never actually seen her nursery encounter on screen.

In the silent movie, Mary definitely sees him at the window. We watch her startled reaction. She then relates his previous visit to George. But it is not shown. Granted, it could be because the movie is primarily the play. However, the novel version had been around for 13 years. Since the media of film would have allowed the cut-to, it could have been done. Not a complaint, just an observation. Kudos for her unmistakably noticing Pan in any visual capacity.

The same cannot be said of the famed Mary Martin version. Yes, Mrs. Darling has her obligatory lines about seeing the boy, but we are not shown anything.

In the Cathy Rigby production, the face at the window scene is also cut to merely a mention.

P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan circumnavigates the issue. He has reworked the beginning of the tale, mostly by removing many of the events leading up to and incuding the nursery medicine scene. Though I would have liked to have seen the medicine, the film works quite well here as it is. The "threat" and veracity of Pan's existence is shown, as we can see him lurking, watching, from outside. Actually, part of 'Mary in the nursery' is in this movie. For Hogan rewrites the encounter as happening to Wendy. (If you've seen the movie, you'll understand why.) It's rather clever, though, allowing us to actually witness the catching of him and his shadow. So I got to see what I wanted "real-ized" in part. And nicely done. I must say, however, that I believe Hogan would have brought to life Mary Darling in the nursery alone with Peter Pan scene perfectly.

Disney also shifts the scene to Wendy. We do not see or hear anything about his visit or shadow until just before Mr. and Mrs. Darling leave. Wendy requests that she not shut the window and then explains. Mrs. Darling is noticeably disturbed and worried. She mentions it to George on the way out. And thus is all that we see of Mrs. Darling relating to these events. As for her belief in him, it opens saying Mrs. Darling believes Peter Pan is the spirit of youth. Which is then differentiated from John and Michael, who thought Peter Pan to be a real person. Her anxious face and gestures as she leaves just might prove she recalls. Next, Disney does include Peter Pan lurking on the roof. He appropriately appears quite devilish at first. And yet, Disney's can be interpreted as having been Wendy's dream.

For those of you wondering: Yes, I certainly can see that Peter bursting through the window is a more dramatic way of presenting him. I'm not denying that. I'm not saying the 'Mary in the nursery' should have been included.

I'm just reflecting on a very powerful scene, remarking that it has never truly been shown. It's a shame, since it's quite stirring.

In the meantime, we'll have to use our imaginations and enjoy the painting by Greg Hildebrandt of the very scene in question.


Danielle Mari said...

Funny but true? I just received an invitation to audition for the Columbus Children's Theatre production of "Peter Pan." Not sure what part they want me for, but would guess it would be Mrs. Darling... :D

Danielle Mari said...

And in regards to Mrs. Darling's reaction to the arrival of Pan? I had read it more as her recognizing that his arrival signifies her daughter's inevitable journey toward womanhood- and away from being Mrs. Darling's baby girl. Whether Mrs. Darling recognizes this because of some maternal instinct or possibly from her own nearly forgotten interactions with Pan- I wonder. Of course, this all likely stems from my own habit of reading Barrie's work as an allegorical tale! I mean, memory works as such an imperfect recording device throughout the plot, I think it's plausible that both Mary (how's THAT for an allegorical name!?) and Peter interacted in the past and forgot about it... Though maybe I'm missing something in there that makes that an impossibility. I certainly am no Barrie scholar like you are!

(WOTD-- grefoo)

Peter said...

Oh sure. A completely valid reason for her scream as well. I don't think there's one right answer. Most likely a combination of any and all.

As for their interaction previously, ah yes, a distinct possibility, which I sort of hint at in Peter Pan's NeverWorld. And I love the observation about memory in regard to the story. :)

And you'd make a wonderful Mrs. Darling, having a balance of sweetness and command yourself. (And maybe even the hidden kiss in the corner of your mouth.)