Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie


A huge happy birthday to James Matthew Barrie, author of the wonderful Peter Pan! I loved this book, I love that Barrie creates this world and these characters that are wondrous and engaging, but he also writes the story with heart and sometimes blunt truths, there is no real romanticising about life, Neverland is the wonder away from the rest of the world and that is why it is marvellous.

In Kensington Gardens in London there is a status of Peter Pan honouring Barrie. Peter is playing his pipes and has animals at the base; it certainly lends itself to the theory that Peter Pan has a connection somehow to the Greek god Pan. I know him best for the novel Peter Pan, but J. M. Barrie had dozens of others works before and after of both stories and plays, right up until his death in 1937. He was knighted in 1913 for his literary work and in the same year became Rector of St Andrews University. His other successes include becoming the President of the Society of Authors, a title which he took from Thomas Hardy which is cool.

I never knew he was knighted, but I do remember that when I was studying Barrie and Peter Pan at university, it became very clear that he was certainly peculiar, or at least lived a strange life, one that no doubt impacted on him. He was not all strange though, he knew some excellent writers of the time including Robert Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

He was the ninth child out of ten, two having died before he was born, and as an adult he was only 5″ 1′ (about 155 cm). When he was young his brother David, who was the next eldest and his mother’s favourite, died just before his 14th birthday. It devastated his mother and Barrie then it seems devoted himself to trying to fill David’s place, to the extent that he even dressed in his clothing. Barrie wrote a biography of his mother called Margaret Ogilvy, and in it he discusses his mother’s reaction to David’s death, as well as his attempts to please her afterwards. If you want to read it it is available from Project Guttenberg for free.

There was a wonderful theory that we heard in class that Barrie wanted so badly to be David and be the “son who never grew up” for his mother that he developed psychological problems and even managed to stunt his growth and proper adolescent development. This does not seem to have any grounds in fact I think he was just short, but he was no doubt strange enough that he probably tried. His innocence that he held until adulthood made him the perfect candidate to write a story like Peter Pan, he never properly grew up, and loving to write and tell stories probably helped this, he could stay young and innocent forever through words. He was initially discouraged from becoming a writer, I for one am very glad he chose to write, where would we be without Peter Pan to fill our dreams and fantasies and to fly us to Neverland in the middle of the night?

Peter Pan has many influences, but the main ones that inspired the play and the characters of the Darlings was the connected to Mr and Mrs Llewelyn-Davies and their boys George, John, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas. And before the legends and did you know facts appear, no he did not create Wendy, it was a name prior to the first appearance of Peter Pan, Barrie simply popularised the name.

There is truly so much going on with Barrie, his relationship to the Llewelyn-Davies family that helped create this Peter Pan world, not to mention the sad fate that many of them had. The entire history and environment and life of Peter Pan is absolutely fascinating I could write forever on, but I won’t, I will however review Peter Pan, one of the greatest books, certainly became established in society and popular culture, and definitely a classic for all ages.

Published: January 1st 2002
Goodreads badgePublisher: Puffin
Pages: 242
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The boy who refuses to grow up teaches Wendy and her younger brothers how to fly. Then it’s off to magical Neverneverland for adventures with mermaids, Indians, and wicked Captain Hook and his pirate crew.

Everyone seems to know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, Tinkerbell and Wendy, and the mystical world of Neverland. I first knew of this story through the Disney version, but I also had a video of an Australian cartoon version which I also loved. Many of the versions of this story keep a lot of the same elements in it, there is no Peter Pan without pirates, Indians, or mermaids, but there are certainly some varying elements compared to the book.

The story of Peter Pan first appears in The Little White bird, a story written in 1902 by Barrie and was intended for adults, not children. The first real sighting of Peter is in the stage play in 1904 where it was titles Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. The novel version, which is probably the most well known version (aside from the movie interpretations), was extended from the original play and published in 1911 as a novel.

With the extended novel there is a chance to expand on character and ideas. There is also a lot more story within the book compared to what people know from the popularised Disney film. There is a lot more involvement of Mr and Mrs Darling in the book, and they come home as their children are flying out the window and know that their children are missing. Wendy, John, and Michael’s visit to Neverland happens in real time, and the time they spend there with the Lost Boys, Peter and Tinkerbell is time passing back in London. We get to see the reaction and life Mr and Mrs Darling have while their children are gone.

Barrie actually opens Peter Pan telling us the story of Mr and Mrs Darling, it is all very sweet. This also helps you understand them as people and parents, they are not just the parents with the story focusing solely on the children and their adventure, it is about the whole story sequence, not just the characters, but in the same wonderful way it is also so much about the characters.

I remember when I first read this story and realising that having a dog as your nanny was not a Disney invention of movie quaintness, it is actually in the book. Nanna it seems gets to have opinions about things and is a very good nanny. There is no first person narration for any of the characters, but Barrie does tell us what everyone thinks when it is required. Though this is not the only strange thing, there are other peculiarities, Mr Darling literally spends time in the doghouse out of guilt for his missing children, neighbours walking by and judging and everything. That was rather strange, but it has its humorous sides as well. It isn’t so much an absurd, only very strange at times.

There are many great moments in this book, even just reading about flying, the journey to Neverland and the adventures that await them. There is a little violence in this book regarding pirates and fairies, but it isn’t described in great detail, but it is still there. Peter helps this a little, in his own childlike way, brushes over things and quickly moves on to the next thing, always chasing another adventure as we are told. Tinkerbell speaks in the book, and there are additional characters and variations of scenes which make it that much better. A lot of Peter’s character is seen in his actions and his leadership. He can change from being proud and selfish to being rather noble and sweet very quickly.

Peter Pan is certainly not the exact character that the movies portray him as; in the book Peter Pan has much more selfish childishness as well as the naivety and cockiness. It is actually mentioned one of the reason Hook hates Peter so much is that he is always so cocky.

Peter is not the only bunt one, Barrie does enough of his own in his narration and explaining, it is very matter of fact, but Barrie expands on what needs to be told and what does not. The voice Barrie uses is one of a storyteller, you get the feeling he is speaking to readers as he recounts the lives and adventures of Peter and Wendy, this certainly adds to the magical nature, like a tale of times that once were.

Barrie definitely brings us some memorable characters in this book, not to mention quotes like “Second star to the right, and straight on till morning” and particularly “To die will be an awfully big adventure”, which is one that has stayed in my mind for years. It is rather telling of Peter’s mind when he says this. He has such a carefree attitude, never worrying and is not typically one to fret over anything. He definitely has a child’s mind, he moves from one thing to another, and quickly forgets things if they are over or no longer concern him. Though the connection and relationship he has with Wendy is sweet, you can feel that he loves the idea of having a mother and being cared for, but he wants things his way in his land, being the child forever.

The ending of Peter Pan and the events in the final chapter I found to be some of the most heartbreaking moments in this book, and certainly was not something I was expecting. I think it is a brilliant ending, but I felt such a pain as I read because it was so innocent, but also so sad at the same time; Barrie did an excellent job. There are entire moments of brilliance in this book, heartfelt, magical, and all round beautiful. You take the abruptness and the selfish Peter and you see him and others in so many other lights that it is all part of the magic and wonder that is Barrie’s story. There is so much to gain from reading this over a movie, the movie can bring you to the book, but the book can give you the soul of the story.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell


In honour of Anna Sewell‘s birthday today I am reviewing the only book she wrote: Black Beauty. Sewell began writing in 1871 aged 51 but as she grew more ill she was painfully writing notes that her mother typed up, or she was dictating to get her story finished. It is always a little bit wonderful when you read about authors who are still trying to get their story out as they are ill, dying, or incapacitated; it means that they want their story out in the world so much that they will keep going until the end, not give up and leave it unfinished in a pile because it became too hard while they were sick.

Published: March 1st 2003
Goodreads badgePublisher: Scholastic
Pages: 245
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Black Beauty is handsome and spirited, with a sweet temper. When he is four years old he is sold to a new owner who gently breaks him in. He is no longer free to gallop around the fields yet there is happiness and adventure among the hardship as his station changes from being a carriage horse on a country estate to a cab horse in town. At the same time he is aware that his well-being and future depend very much on the kindness or cruelty of his various masters.

Black Beauty‘s original title was Black Beauty: The Autobiography a Horse, translated from the original equine. I love this, and Sewell’s approach of using the animal autobiography genre is apparently considered the first of its type. Written over several years, Black Beauty was finally published in 1877. This creates a great setting for the history not only of the use of horses, but the society as well. The way people talk about horses, and using horse driven cabs is a wonderful image to have as the story progresses.

Black Beauty’s story is a gripping yet simple, complex, touching and achingly sad all at once. This is the story of a horse who goes through life working for many people, doing and seeing many things, and understanding the life, hardships, and joys of being a horse. It is a beautiful story, nothing is hidden and everything is laid bare, and that is why it is amazing.

I liked the way that Sewell did not shy away from the facts about life and about horses; facts are facts and the era of writing does play a role, but Sewell also set out to write a story directed at all those who worked with horses. I read that her intention was to promote the humane treatment of horses, and apparently Black Beauty is credited with having the greatest effect on the treatment of animals of any publication in history, resulting in changing the public attitude, as well as creating legislation to protect horses. That’s pretty amazing for her only book, and she didn’t even live to see the full impact it had.

People often get upset and mention how horrified they were about certain parts in this book, and I won’t lie, there are some bad moments where horse mistreatment is shown to various levels. However, as shocking and blunt these sometimes can be, they are not an ongoing focus. There is a lot of talk about cruelty, but there are equal amounts that show kindness and compassion. The sentiments mentioned in this story may seem cruel, but this book was also written in a time when this was the way of the world; and Sewell spends just as much time telling us that if horses were treated better than these situations would not be called for.

And while there is abuse, there is also a strong sense of justice for that cruelty that is more important. Throughout Black Beauty people are being reprimanded for whipping too much, jailed for mistreatment of horses, and people on the street have no issue pulling up riders or drivers who are being cruel. That is why this book is powerful, it shows the cruelty but also the consequences.

Black Beauty begins his story in a loving home where he is taught the ways of the world by his mother. She tells him to be “gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with good will.” Throughout this book he uses this advice to be the best horse he can be no matter what his situations and what he is required to do. As he changes home and he experiences new things he keeps this in mind, always trying his best.

What I found very interesting is that Black Beauty is given many names through this book, he begins his life as Darkie, and as he grows older and sold he is renamed Black Beauty, as well as Jack, Black Auster and others. But there is a reason the book is called Black Beauty, I never could figure out why but when I finished it this time I realised and understood, and that made it so much more wonderful.

What I also found heartbreaking but terribly sweet was when he was being sold once more at a horse fair. Being an older horse with injury and having recently come from a hard life, it was moving but beautiful as he says that his new owners “made as much of me as if I had been the ‘Black Beauty’ of olden time.” There is so much said in those words. He never lets his spirits down and he remains as good a horse as his mother wished through all he has been through, yet he knows why he is not as glamourous as he was. It is a true testament that he keeps his head high and makes the best of it all, but in the flickering moment he remembered his past with the meadow, his friends, and the love and affection he received from his master. Sewell manages to mean so much by saying so little, it is beautifully touching some of the things in this book.

Sewell is also very good a segues, Beauty’s voice is telling us his story and Sewell paces it right and places everything where it needs to be to make the story flow smoothly. Nothing is interrupted, yet nothing is left out either. She captures all parts of life, other horse experiences and their own stories. Through a horse’s eyes a person is judged in many ways in terms of their character. Beauty often gives people a well assessed judgement and we are shown why that judgement stands. Even in short paragraphs and a few lines Sewell can make it seem like we’ve gotten all we need to know about a person based on how a horse sees them.

The details in this story are also amazing, whether it is in the narrative or listening to another horse tell their story. Horses notice everything, the feeling of the human touch, kindness and pain. Sewell captures these beautifully and demonstrates that horses base their opinions on people not by who they are so much, but by how well they treat their horse. Through this technique you also see the horses reactions to war, ill-treatment, old age, and illness.

Other people have kept writing the Black Beauty story, but I can’t imagine ever wanting to read these other adventures, or read extended version about what occurred in the book, leaving the beautiful story as it is is enough for me, there is so much heart in the original that by adding to it will spoil it. There have also been multiple movie and television versions of Black Beauty, and I have never seen a film version I didn’t like, and only a handful I’ve seen have made minor changes to the plot as far as I could tell. I think with a story like this either reading it or watching it can be hard. It is really up to the individual, but when it is done well, it can be equally as wonderful as the book.

Happy Birthday Anna Sewell, it is sad you did not live long enough to see the effect your book had on the world, but I thank you for writing it.

Freaky Friday (#1) by Mary Rogers

Published: 1988
Goodreads badgePublisher: Puffin
Pages: 154
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Annabel thinks her mom has the best life. If she were a grown-up, she could do whatever she wanted Then one morning she wakes up to find she’s turned into her mother . . . and she soon discovers it’s not as easy as it looks

This is a great book that covers the wonderful scenario of a child wishing they were a grown up for a day and some how thinking it was going to be fantastic. I rather enjoy these kinds of stories, not entirely sure why but there is the fact we get to read about a 10 year old or a 13 year old or whatever being in an adult body but still having the intellect and thought process of someone younger. Hilarity ensues.

Freaky Friday
doesn’t use a child, Annabelle is 15, but she is someone’s child which is the better focus of the story. Her behaviour is that of a self-centred teenager sometimes and she is portrayed well in that respect. Personally, I don’t think the same story would not have worked if she was any younger or older. Being 15 she is old enough and yet not old enough at the same time which only adds to Rogers’ storytelling.

I used to read this so much when I was a kid, I never found myself wanting to switch places with my mother but I enjoyed the mystery surrounding it and what it was that caused the switch. We do not get to see the switched Annabelle’s side of this story through her mother’s eyes, we just see the results at the end and hear the odd mention as the day progresses.

Adult Annabelle has to deal with the maid, keeping control over the family problems and the issue of missing children. Rogers is very good in writing through the voice of Annabelle as she tries to behave like her mother. You can see she is trying to be responsible while still reverting to age appropriate reactions and slip ups.

Not analysing the short story too much but there is a lot of trust involved here, who knows what Annabelle could have messed up or done, not to mention no one really thought just how weird it could get if your daughter become you and having to deal with all the possibilities your husband might pose. That takes away from the innocence a bit I guess, it wasn’t meant to be a long switch that was the result of something unchangeable.

What I did like about this book as opposed to others in this story is that it was not just a child wanting to be a grown up version of themselves, it was Annabelle envying her mother’s life. I think that’s what gives it that little bit extra, it wasn’t about the child so much as it was about the child and the mother, they are connected. Annabel isn’t being selfish she is being jealous. There are no extreme morals thrown in our faces by Rogers but you do get a sense by the end that every one has had it tough and you can’t just wish things to be better and you should be happy with who you are.

I will also add that personally, if I had to choose a movie adaptation, I would got with the 1976 Jodie Forster and Barbara Harris version. Disney, for some unknown reason, has adapted Freaky Friday three times over the years, the first screenplay being written by the author, which could explain why it was a better story. But then as we must modernise and make it more relatable to the kiddies a 1995 version was made that wasn’t completely bad, but by 2003 when Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan took a crack, I must say that is where they completely ruined the story for me and I had to go read the book again just to try and forget what they’d done. Though because this was one of my most read books as a child I must always let it win over any movie version.

What I did learn however is that 1. This is the first in a series which I never knew about, and 2. Apparently in 1882 a similar story was written involving a father and son. I think seeing a father and son switch places would be extremely interesting, but coming from the 1880s that has to make it even greater. I found it on The Project Gutenberg site and as soon as I finish I will regale you in its wondrous tale (fingers crossed it is as wondrous as I hope it to be).

Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein

Published: October 1st 1985
Goodreads badgePublisher: Puffin Books
Pages: 192
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

‘Utter loathing and hatred ‘ I said. ‘I wouldn’t even be on the same bus as you… If I could have caught a virus in time.’ Erica Yurken knew she was destined for great things. Never in any doubt about her own genius she felt superior to everyone at notorious Barringa East… that is until Alison Ashley turned up.

Hating Alison Ashley is about a new girl arriving at school and Erica Yurkan instantly hating her because she looks out of place and a better class of person. That’s it. So we sit through Erica assuming the worst, convinced Alison is out to get her and finding more things to hate no matter how small and shallow.

The first thought when I started reading this was that we finally got a story from someone other than the middle class. Granted it was less eloquent in my mind but that isn’t important. This book was so surprising and a very odd read. It was interesting to see Erica’s family and social point of view but by golly she was an annoying child. You forget she’s only supposed to be 12 years old or something if she’s only in year six. And the stories she comes up with were so unrealistic they just became annoying as every time she opened her mouth it was a lie. And not even a decent one.

There is a great line in this book that was put in there at just the right moment when my patience of putting up with Erica was getting thin. It is a great observation – “Erica Yurkan you have an exaggerated sense of your own importance”. This is so true and for someone coming from her family she is the most judgmental and snobbish person.

Even if you try and justify it, because of her family life etc etc she acts out etc etc. But she doesn’t even act out properly. What she does is she thinks she is superior to everyone when she isn’t, she hates those different than her and looks down on those she thinks are stupid and less deserving, she isn’t shy about openly criticising everyone and she can’t accept any one else might be having their own issues. She really is a horrible person, but again, we can justify it and say well look at what she comes from and how she is hiding up her shame, but that is no excuse.

By the end there is hope for Erica as she starts to realise that she isn’t fooling anyone, and that perhaps her life isn’t so bad after all. But you do have to put up with a lot to get her to that point. Again she is only supposed to be 12 years old so it is just weird most of the time. I guess it is supposed to shows you can’t judge anyone cause you don’t know their life but I think this took it too far. Erica’s family wasn’t what shocked me the most, that I could easily picture, it was this 12 year old hating someone so much and letting it consume her life just because she was ashamed or jealous or some stupid reason like that. Luckily she attempted some form of redemption in the end because Erica is a lot of personality to deal with in one book.

This was turned into a movie starring singer Delta Goodrem, they had changed the story a bit as per usual, but some of the plot was close to the book. I wasn’t a fan of the movie myself but that may just be me, so if you liked this book you may enjoy watching the movie.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Published: September 12th 2006
Goodreads badgePublisher: David Fickling Books
Pages: 224
Format: Book
Genre: Historical Fiction/Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Berlin 1942

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

First of all I understand why this book is either loved or disliked. I didn’t know this was classed as a children’s book until I picked it up and I was a little surprised but I have read kids books on just as tragic topics so it isn’t unheard of. As for the book where do I even begin?

From the moment I started reading this book I was greeted with a child’s voice that had such innocence within it and observation with no deep thought it was wonderful. Bruno is a nine year old boy in his own world with his own priorities. His world changes around him and he doesn’t understand and tries to make the best he can out of what he is made to do. What I think people find hardest is how naive Bruno seems to be, he is only nine after all, and what is wonderful about children is they don’t understand adult prejudice until it is drummed into them and they become adults. Bruno doesn’t understand why things are happening, he just does as he is told, tries to fill in his own answers and pieces together the rest.

I liked that this story made you understand that there were more people involved than just Hitler. It is so interesting to see what happened from the point of view from an officer or someone within the system but also apart from the consequence. There was so much more going on during this era and it does not just boil down to the actions of one man, this book shows just what goes on behind the scenes of the man in charge. And there is no better angle than through a child, even if his family is involved, he is unaware of what it means.

It is sad and unsettling this book because you know it is perfectly true to some point. Within the first few dozen pages you realise that this very well could be, and as you read these phrases that are drilled into these children and hear the lessons they are taught, you know that this was what was happening. Now I say again, yes this is fiction, not exact historical fiction, and it is YA fiction so give it some liberties before slandering it. It tells these events in as good a way as say Two Weeks With The Queen tells you about homosexuality and AIDS. It is a story told through the eyes of a child, that has to be the biggest advantage this story has.

Writing style was rather like A. A. Milne at times with the repetition and matter of fact and selfish way children can sometimes think and behave and this I felt added something by reinforcing this was a little boy who was being left in the dark and didn’t even know it. Bruno has such an innocent look on the world and he is constantly trying to figure it all out. His conversations with Shmuel at the fence show just how naive he is, and how very wrapped up in his sheltered world he seems. But also Boyne writes through Bruno in such a way that it perfectly matches the mind of a nine year old boy worried about his own problems and ignorant to the greater picture.

Boyne maintains his style of describing without actually telling and a lot of things are described but not written down, and I trusted this to get me to the end. This approach was good because it keeps a lot of the explicit violence and unpleasantness about the events in this book out but it allowed Boyne to keep the story realistic allowing you to easily figure out what was going on. As I read and I saw the pages start to thin on one end I really didn’t want to go on, and with so few pages left I knew it was going to be wrapped up quickly. I got through it and I’m glad I did. The ending was a bit unfulfilling but expected. It gives you a lot to think about and you certainly don’t stop thinking about it quickly.

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