Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How to Fly?

See how the Darling children are flying here?

You know what I've often wondered?  Is that a comfortable way to fly?

I mean, really.  Parallel to the ground so that you have to lift up your head and thus risk a crick in your neck?
Not just your neck, but your upper torso often needs to be bent.  Try it out on the floor and you'll discover... no, it's really not all that comfotable.

And yet, that's the popular way to depict flying.  Not just with Peter Pan and company, but often with other flying characters such as Superman.  Why is that?  Because it looks cool?  Yes, I can see the desire to "look upon the world below" and this way lends itself to that... but wouldn't that position become tiresome?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking it in the sense of  dismissing it as valid.  Likewise, I don't necessarily think that another depiction would be any better or worse.  Just curious is all...

It's also interesting to note that in most stage productions, Pan & company are upright while flying.  Naturally this results from how the flight contraptions are designed, as it wouldn't be feasible to create the 'parallel flight' on (over?) the stage.  And yet... when productions (such as film or animation) are able to produce "flight" without the visible harness and such -- the natural inclination is to do it the 'parallel' way.

What did Barrie write in his novel regarding the "flight habits" of Peter Pan?

In this ‘first’ example there is no description.

“I say, Peter, can you really fly?”
Instead of troubling to answer him Peter flew around the room, taking the mantelpiece on the way.

Later, in the same (Nursery) scene, the Darlings' attempt is put this way:
They were not nearly so elegant as Peter, they could not help kicking a little, but their heads were bobbing against the ceiling, and there is almost nothing so delicious as that.

Bobbing their heads. Hmm. If it’s true that they were parallel to the ceiling, it could be that they bobbed their heads while laying flat. But doesn’t it seem more likely that they were “standing too high” in mid-air?

When Mr. and Mrs. Darling return with Nana, looking up at the window, Barrie says:
...and most heart-gripping sight of all, they could see in shadow on the curtain three little figures in night attire circling round and round, not on the floor but in the air.

Again, no “laying flat” is stated, nor necessarily implied.  Furthermore, one does not normally think of kids circling round and round in any other way but on their feet... and the fact that it remarks that one's image of the scene needs to be "elevated" could indicate that they're upright.

Other than saying they delighted in flying around church spires and whatnot, we get just these passages about “how” they flew -

Regarding Peter:
He could sleep in the air without falling, by merely lying on his back and floating, but this was, partly at least, because he was so light that if you got behind him and blew he went faster.

Okay, sure, in this instance he’d be “parallel” - but then, that goes without saying since that’s a natural relaxed position and he’d not get a crick in his neck to do so.

Wendy says:
"And even though we became good at picking up food, see how we bump against clouds and things if he is not near to give us a hand."
To which the Narrator explains:
Indeed they were constantly bumping. They could now fly strongly, though they still kicked far too much; but if they saw a cloud in front of them, the more they tried to avoid it, the more certainly did they bump into it. If Nana had been with them, she would have had a bandage round Michael’s forehead by this time.

That one sort of implies that their heads are going 'first' but then one can argue that they'd more likely see them before running into them, outside of Barrie's humor, I mean.  However, it can also be supposed that the kicking might mean in the sense of swimming, hence horizontal.

They were now over the fearsome island, flying so low that sometimes a tree grazed their feet.

Grazed their feet? Hmm. Although it is true in the “parallel” way of thinking as well, is it as strong an argument against it? Would not their tummy scrape the trees, then - or are feet only mentioned since toes extend a little beyond?

Can we assume, then, that since Barrie specifically mentions Peter Pan on his back and had been accustomed to seeing “upright” flying in the many times he’d seen his play that Pan and others do not in fact fly ‘parallel to the ground?’

Again, I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong. Just that it could be... and thus, I wonder.  And yes, the 'parallel flying' does "look cool."  Of course, it might actually be one's natural way of doing it, since the only similar experience available is swimming, as stated before.  By the same token, though, we cannot swim forward upright, so it might be more fun to be able to do so.  Or perhaps being horizontal is just plain more exhilarating?

For the record, I did (on account of having seen it before [yes, in Disney] as well as the Superman films as a kid) picture Peter Pan and others flying that way in Peter Pan’s NeverWorld.  However, it’s also true that I envisioned upright flight as well.  Sort of an "as needed/called for" kind of thing.  It's certain, though, that I have always pictured Peter Pan hovering about for no damn good reason other than being able to do it. I even made sure to present this idea in the novel.
Rising into the air for no particular reason other than the fun of it...
Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates and Peter Pan no Boken also have the eternal boy “needlessly and charmingly flighty” as well.

So what do you think? How does Peter Pan fly?


Anon said...

Q: How does Peter Pan fly?

A: Any way he wants!

Anon said...

Okay, kidding aside, I don't think it requires this much thought, but I personally always saw it as like being weightless in space.

That said, I really do think that Peter Pan would fly however it suited his fancy at any given moment, regardless of how that might be.

Peter Von Brown said...

I most definitely agree with the last statement.

However, the first one seems to confirm that it's not (necessarily) flying horizontally.

Also, again, it's not just Pan & company. What of the Man of Steel and other flyers? The point is the constant use of this depiction. I just tend to over-focus on Pan. ;)