Peter Pan and Wendy: Centenary Edition

by J.M. Barrie

illustrated by Robert Ingpen

Published by Blue Heron Books

216 pages, 2004




Return to (the real) Neverland

Reviewed by Monica Stark


It's easy to forget what a wonderful book it is. Between movies and plays and extreme disneyfication, it's easy to forget that author J.M. Barrie understood not only children, but adults and -- most important of all -- how to tell a good story.

Like all children's books that pass the test of time, Peter Pan and Wendy doesn't talk down or talk around children. It might be a book intended for children, but this is storytelling that anyone can love.

In the first few paragraphs of the book, we discover what kind of stuff Wendy's mother is made of.

"Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.

Of course they lived at 14, and until Wendy came her mother was the chief one. She was a lovely lady, with a romantic mind and such a sweet mocking mouth. Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner.

A lot happens in these few paragraphs. A lot happens without anything really happening at all. But it subtly sets the tone for what will follow in a way that films and plays -- and certainly Disney -- never could.

The new Blue Heron edition of Peter Pan and Wendy celebrates the centenary of the first public performance of Peter Pan in 1904. The foreword to this edition is written by David Barrie, the great great nephew of the author and takes the form of a brief biography, including the fact that the author had, during his lifetime, donated all his rights to Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital for children "with the stipulation that its value should never be revealed." Through a 1988 Act of Parliament, the organization still enjoys the benefit of Barrie's gift, despite the fact that they would normally have reverted 50 years after the author's death, which occurred in 1937.

The illustrations in this edition are by the Australian artist and author Robert Ingpen who has illustrated modern editions of such classics as Treasure Island, Around the World in 80 Days, Pinocchio and The Jungle Book. Ingpen's illustrations capture the spirit of Peter Pan and Wendy perfectly. These are, for the most part, beautiful paintings where the core images are sharply rendered and the edges are defined only softly, leaving plenty of room for the imagination of a child -- or an adult -- to fill in what isn't there.

You know the story. Wendy and her two brothers are whisked away to a magical island to meet the Lost Boys. From there the group are but a blink of an eye away from a series of adventures that include encounters with pirates, crocodiles, mermaids and the fairy, Tinker Bell.

This is a book to cherish. A wonderful gift or even a gift to yourself. Because it's easy to forget the wonder of the original Peter Pan. | November 2004


Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.