Essay: Peter Pan in Once Upon A Time vs the original novel

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  • Peter Pan in Once Upon A Time vs the original novel
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Peter pan is a novel that has been around for over 100 years. In its lifetime, it has been adapted many times into many different TV shows, movies, and plays. All of these adaptations showcase Peter Pan and the characters of the novel through various different perspectives. Once Upon a Time, is an example of a TV show in which Peter Pan appears. This show incorporates different fairy tales and puts a twist on them, one of the most memorable was Peter Pan in Season 3. Peter Pan is portrayed as a villain in this TV show while in the novel he is considered an adventurous, naive hero. Peter Pan as a character in the novel can be interpreted in many different ways. When children read it, they may have a different view of Peter Pan then when adults read it. In order to understand whether Peter Pan is a villain or hero, one must look into two contrasting works containing Peter Pan and then draw a conclusion there. The two works that will be compared and analyzed are the TV show, Once Upon a Time and the original novel by James Matthew Barrie. After looking at these two adaptations, one can conclude that Peter Pan is villainous in nature and is not as innocent as he appears in the children’s novel.

In Season 3 of Once Upon a Time, Peter Pan is explicitly portrayed as a villain. More interestingly, Captain Hook is the hero, helping to save one of the main characters, Henry, from Peter Pan’s wrath. Hook warns the whole team that Peter Pan is a demon. According to the co-creators, Peter Pan’s villainous nature was based on their interpretation of Barrie’s original book. Edward Kitsis, one of these writers, said “what happens to somebody who clings to youth at any cost? For us, that is a villain.” (qtd. in Campbell.) In Katherine Frazier’s thesis titled “The Peter Pan Paradox: A Discussion of Light and Dark in J.M Barrier’s Shadow Child”, she mentions how Peter Pan is introduced in Once upon a Time as one who “can manipulate all situations and creates chaos wherever he goes.” (28). His ultimate desire is eternal youth and power and he does not care who he hurts in order to achieve those desires. (Frazier 29) In this show, Peter pan is slightly older, he is a teenager. He became Peter Pan, a boy who does not age, to escape the pressures of fatherhood. The fact that Peter Pan was once a father and is now a villain, supports the paradox of parents turning into villains as seen in Barrier’s original book (Frazier 31). Parents are seen as enemies in both the novel and the TV show. In Once Upon a Time, the villain parent is Peter Pan himself so the audience is not inclined to sympathize with him. In the novel, Peter Pan was a victim of parent abandonment so it is easier for the reader to feel a little bit of sympathy for him. Peter Pan was originally a man named Malcolm (who later changed his name) and was drawn to come to Neverland with his son based on it being his childhood dream. When him and his son arrived on Neverland, they were greeted by the only inhabitant of Neverland at the time, a demonic shadow. This shadow later becomes Pan’s servant. Malcolm wanted the ability to fly but was informed that he couldn’t fly unless he was younger. This attractive ability to fly also lured Wendy and her brothers to Neverland. Therefore, it can be viewed that the ability to fly is a symbol that represents the freedom that comes with being a child: completely free of restraints and the pressures of societal responsibilities. In order to get the ability to fly or have “freedom”, Malcolm makes a deal with the shadow to become a teenager again in order to gain this ability. In return, Malcolm had to give up his son and he does this willingly. He wanted eternal youth so badly, he was willing to give up his only son for it. It is easy to hate Peter Pan after watching this as it is a heart wrenching scene watching someone be selfish enough to give up their own child. Peter Pan is also informed by the shadow that his youth is limited and that it will eventually expire. In a desperate attempt to extend his youthfulness, he tries to kill a boy, Henry in exchange. Again, he is so greedy and selfish, he will resort to anything to achieve his desires. Peter Pan from the TV show, comes from the view of an adult having experienced what it is like to have responsibilities. Peter Pan from the novel, comes from the view of a child wanting adventure and freedom for the rest of his life. Although the perspectives are different, the goal is the same: eternal youth and both versions of Peter Pan will do anything it takes to achieve this goal.

Peter Pan in the novel is a younger aged boy who glamourizes the fact he does not want to grow up. As stated by Sarah M. Connelly in her research paper, “nearly all children have no choice to grow up; however normal children use growth as an opportunity, something that Peter will never be able to do” (2). Peter Pan seems very comfortable in not wanting to grow up, but it is clear that he does desire love at his very core. He desires a motherly figure which is why he attaches to Wendy right away because he craves that parental-like love, like most children. Peter Pan in the book has deeply rooted abandonment issues and a hatred for mothers that he tries to pass on to Wendy and her brothers. He tells Wendy, “I thought like you that my mother would always keep the window open for me, so I stayed away for moons and moons and moons, and then flew back but the window was barred for my mother had forgotten all about me, and there was another little boy sleeping in my bed” (Barrie 210). This demonstrates how angry Peter is and how unloved he feels, it is almost like he wants to drag the others to feel hatred towards parents so he doesn’t feel so alone in his world. Peter Pan in the TV show, abandons his own child so his child experiences abandonment issues rather than Peter Pan experiencing it himself. However, it is clear in the TV show Peter desires love too because of his attempts to bring many children to Neverland to keep him company. Perhaps, there are times where he misses his son so these lost boys fill that void for him. Similar to the TV show, Peter Pan is incredibly selfish. An example of this in the novel would be when in the book it is told that there are not an exact number of lost boys because once they start growing off they are “thinned out.” (Barrie 99) The reader can conclude that Peter Pan thinning out the boys refers to him murdering them or disposing of them back into the “real world.” He also has no remorse for his murders of the pirates because “[he] forgets them after he kills them.” (Barrie 318) This has a sociopathic undertone, one who doesn’t remember who he kills and who isn’t fazed or affected by it can be considered more a villain than a hero. Peter Pan in the TV show also shows no remorse when it comes to murders. He was willing to sacrifice a young boy, just for his gain. His sociopathic tendencies are reflected in the fact that he struggles to connect with others with compassion and understanding due to his own self-centered behavior which is why he will always be alone unless he decides to grow up. (Connelly 6)

Neverland as a place is very different in both the novel and the TV show but they are both “Peter’s Playhouse” (Asher-Perrin) Peter controls most of the inhabitants and the events that occur in Neverland. Neverland in the novel is a place that children can leave. Neverland in the TV show, you are not able to leave. When children are taken there, they are almost “kidnapped” and never seen again. In season 3, episode 4 of Once Upon a Time, Peter Pan reveals that nobody can get off the island without his permission. This is because Neverland is in a different realm, so individuals are trapped on it. How each person gets to Neverland also is different from the book. In the TV show, Peter Pan’s servant shadow goes to find children to bring back to Neverland to keep him company in Neverland. The shadow essentially kidnaps children and once they arrive, they are stuck in Neverland forever. This shadow and Neverland is supposed to be feared, which is different than what the novel depicts of Neverland. In the novel, Neverland is a magical place that kids are attracted to. Peter pan in Once Upon a Time, also uses a pipe to lure kids who feel unloved to join his group of lost boys. He takes children from their homes or capitalizes on their sadness, which is manipulative. Peter pan in the novel lures Wendy and the brothers to Neverland by telling them he will teach them to fly. This is something they cannot resist. The lost boys are “children who fall out of their perambulators when the nurse is looking the other way. If they aren’t claimed in seven days they are sent far away to the Neverland to defray expenses.” (Barrie 60) Although, they all have the freedom to leave, the lost boys never did because they never had the opportunity to until Wendy offered for them to come home with her and her brothers. And when Wendy and the others fly back home, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell try to close the window of their home to make it seem like they are unwanted which is a manipulative technique. However, this plan falls through because the only way for Peter Pan to exit is through the window. He watches on the outside of the nursery as all his “friends” receive love while his refusal to grow up leaves him alone and longing for that same love.

In both the novel and the TV show, Peter Pan can be seen as a threat because they both threaten what is normal, which in any society, outliers like this are feared. Peter Pan in both the show and the book encourages children readers to be “[free] of the restrictions of societal rules and implications.” (Becca 34) Whether he plays the role of the villain or “hero”, he portrays this same message. Although this sounds very liberating, Peter Pan is really creating his own society, his own version of normal that the lost boys must fit into and follow Peter Pan’s ideologies or they are not welcome. Both versions of Peter Pan, have distinct plot differences but both characters harbor the same characteristics- selfish, manipulative and villainous. Although it is more apparent in the TV show, when aspects from both the novel and the TV shows are compared side by side it easy to see how the fairy boy from Barrie’s novel may not be as innocent as we were all lead to believe. Perhaps, Peter Pan’s nature is to be villainous because his innocence and refusal to grow up threatens the people around him. When one is alone and has nothing to live for, they aren’t inclined to be a hero. Instead they are selfish and drain others just to fill the void in their heart. Without love, guidance and a home, it makes sense why Peter Pan would be considered a villain.

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