Sunday, May 3, 2009

What Barrie Wrote Out the Window

Back in this post I brought up a discrepancy in Barrie’s work. Namely the amount of time Peter Pan spent at his parents’ house before flying away. It varies by version. But is it really a discrepancy? Let’s have a look.

In the eternal boy's first ever appearance, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens*, we are told he flew away seven days after being born. Though just one week does not sound very long, it is in fact the most amount of time given for the scenario.

For when Barrie created further adventures in the play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up we hear Pan say he left the day of his birth. Aha! The discrepancy!

You’ve probably heard (read?) me say that Barrie preferred the book over the play. What does he write in the novel? Wendy, I ran away the day I was born. So does it stand to reason he’d definitely switched it in his mind to a day rather than a week? Possibly.

However, the book is technically not the final version of the story. Consider from his screenplay: I ran away from home, Wendy, soon after I was born. Aha! Peter states it a little differently now. Note the ambiguity – “soon after.” Could be any time from the same day to seven days later.

So what are we to make of the situation? We could just dismiss it right here, content in knowing that Peter Pan spent a very short time at home. Perhaps the exact amount isn’t important. Very possible, but one more factor must be considered.

It can even be considered the solution – one provided by Barrie. Don’t forget Peter’s memory is not to be trusted. Plus, he’s inclined to make stuff up. Just as with the directions to the Neverland, Peter said anything that came into his head at the time. In fact, it’s also supported by the text of the novel: “I don’t know,” he replied uneasily, “but I am quite young.” He really knew nothing about it, he had merely suspicions, but he said at a venture, “Wendy, I ran away the day I was born.” Therefore, it would seem definite that Peter is just wrong on the amount. He doesn’t remember exactly. Yet we also know from the text that he did live in Kensington Gardens for a while, so the first story did occur. (Yes, Peter Pan is the one who tells us this bit of history as well, but it's supported by an entire novella.)

So what are we to conclude?
The “soon after” of the screenplay is obviously meant to cover both accounts of the event. But given Pan’s lack of understanding and knowledge, we must look to the place which has no such ties to Peter relating the story. Which takes us back to the Peter Pan origin adventure, where the narrator states the duration as a week. Coupling it with Barrie's preference to the book form, it also makes sense as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is both a book and its events are not negated by any version of the story. Thus, seven days is the correct answer.

I hope I’ve cleared it up.

Unfortunately, Barrie is not without a few other mysteries in his most famous tale. And the “big one” of these is quite a doozy – but I’ve tinkered with it and I believe I have a Barriesque solution. I’ve mentioned my interquel of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy before. But that’s a story for another day.

*Technically, it's The Little White Bird, as PPiKG is a story within that story.

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