We all know that the Darling children flew off to the Neverland with Peter Pan. And we all know that they did in fact return.
But the part that seems to pass everyone by is the how much time passes during their visit. All one really gets from adaptations of it is that they did come back... and seemingly soon. They have their various famed adventues and the climatic pirate ship battle and it all looks done and gone. In Disney, for instance, parents George and Mary return home from their party on the same night, to find Wendy asleep at the window, implying that she dreamt it all up. Some folks like to think that they did spend a good deal of time in the Neverland and simply returned, magically, on the same night. A la more time passed in the Neverland than at their home in London. This certainly could be true within the Disney movie. But as always, I like to go to the source. Especially when the various presentations fall short of depicting the reality of this fantasy.
So... how long are they actually there?
Well, first of all, the very act of even flying to the Neverland seems to take much longer than you might first imagine.
Not long ago. But how long ago? They were flying over the sea before this thought began to disturb Wendy seriously. John thought it was their second sea and their third night.
Thus, we already have an indication that it couldn't just be one night.
And if those lines are construed as the children's wrong impressions, a narrative clue as to it not being the same night, or even just a day, is this line:
...that the children are coming back, that indeed they will be here on Thursday week.
This means not the very next Thursday, but the one after that, as in the one in a week. Hence, they must have been gone for at least twelve days.
But there’s more in the text than just that to give us some idea. Consider: Captain Pan calculated, after consulting the ship’s chart, that if this weather lasted they should strike the Azores about the 21st of June, after which it would save time to fly. The Azores are in the Atlantic (while the Neverland is on the other side of the world), so... if they had left in the Winter and not yet come back up through June 21, the beginning of summer, we are now talking about 6 months that the Darling children had been away from home. But there’s more!
Just a couple of lines showing that many days did indeed go by on the island:
[Wendy] was often at the lagoon, however, on sunny days after rain, when the mermaids come up in extraordinary numbers to play with their bubbles.
We have now reached the evening that was to be known among them as the Night of Nights, because of its adventures and their upshot.
Regarding the amount of their adventures:
To describe them all would require a book as large as an English-Latin, Latin-English Dictionary, and the most we can do is to give one as a specimen of an average hour on the island.
And then on the other end, back in London, a little from the waiting period of Mr. and Mrs. Darling:
They sat thus night after night recalling that fatal Friday...
Instead of watching the ship, however, we must now return to that desolate home from which three of our characters had taken heartless flight so long ago.
Note, of course, SO LONG AGO.
And then there is this line to ponder:
Wendy, while still in the Neverland and considering going home, says, Perhaps mother is in half mourning by this time.
This had been brought back to my attention by Hook & Jill author Andrea Jones. For this topic had been one of the many bits she and I discussed about the world of Pan last visit. I had mentioned how the duration of the time in the Neverland is rarely (if ever) actually brought to light in pop culture thinking of the tale. So, this line immediately came back to Andrea. Half mourning? We had an inkling, but needed to be sure. To the internet!
Half-mourning is the traditional third part of mourning in the Victorian era. The plain black clothing associated with the first stage of mourning and the black clothing with trims worn in the second period were replaced in half-mourning by garments in shades of purple and gray. White was also acceptable in this late mourning stage.
In nineteenth century England, the first mourning period, or full mourning, lasted one year and one day. The second mourning stage was nine months long and the half-mourning period was three to six months long. The idea of easing into non-mourning was emphasized by going from dark clothing and a veil for widows to a dark dress with decorative trim to new, lighter- colored of clothing.*
Get all that? Whoa there! If Mary Darling were in half mourning, then this calculates into roughly two years they are gone!
Seem implausible? Don’t forget about George Darling living in the kennel. He even goes to work in it:
Every morning the kennel was carried with Mr. Darling in it to a cab...
And he’s gained notoriety for it:
It may have been quixotic, but it was magnificent. Soon the inward meaning of it leaked out, and the great heart of the public was touched. Crowds followed the cab, cheering it lustily; charming girls scaled it to get his autograph; interviews appeared in the better class of papers, and society invited him to dinner and added, “Do come in the kennel.”
Granted, word of such a sensation could indeed spread quickly, but having nearly two years time to reach this level would certainly make sense.
We also have to consider, of course, that Wendy could be wrong. Time is described as behaving strangely on the island, so perhaps she has miscounted the days. It was not really Saturday night, at least it may have been, for they had long lost count of the days; but always if they wanted to do anything special they said this was Saturday night, and then they did it. Still, however, this does give another indication that they were there for ever so long! They are even forgetting details about their own home. Sure the Neverland is a distracting and adventurous place, but would that have happened in so a short time as is generally thought? (Unless one goes by the assumption that the Neverland makes one forget things, but I don't recall any solid evidence of that concept.) And since Wendy’s “job” is meant to be a homemaker and she adheres to it, she would have a better grasp on ‘reality’ than the others. So it’s not entirely far-fetched that she just as well could be correct.
So no matter what, this idea that they had their fun in the Neverland for a night or even merely the weekend is not the truth. The Darlings, as shown by the text, had been gone for what amounts to years.
It pains me to think of poor Mr. & Mrs. Darling, pining for their lost children and regretting their alleged mistakes. Mary keeps the window open, sitting by it in the hope they they'll return. It's so heart-breaking. And if you want more of the depth of their despair, Barrie lays it all out for you during the novel.
But then, Peter likely had no intention of letting them return to London in the first place.
* Quoted from this page. * I certainly didn't catch every reference to the length of their stay in the novel, so feel free to add more!
I am a fiction writer. Mostly I compose in the Urban Fantasy genre. When asked, I usually liken it to "The Twilight Zone" - extraordinary events emerging in everyday life. I graduated with Honors in Creative Writing from Knox College in 1993. Obviously I also scribble cartoonish drawings.
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