Peter Pan is a lovely book; I also found it heartbreaking. J.M. Barrie's brief but meaningful story has deep roots in Western culture. There always seem to be some type of adaptation or variation of the Pan story out on the horizon. (Joe Wright's upcoming Pan, a prequel to Barrie's original story, is the latest film to fly to Neverland, but will undoubtedly not be the last; I must also mention that Hook is one of my favorite films). Children and adults are forever fascinated with imagination and where it can take us, and Peter Pan is a story that typifies that experience. However, Peter Pan has a lot more to say than that.
The most distinguishing theme of Peter Pan is children and their mothers or the longing for a mother. I found this theme the most touching and affecting. When Peter attempts to sabotage Wendy and her brothers' return to their mother but is stopped by the sight of their mother's tears, it's a genuinely touching moment. Motherhood is such a basic and fundamental idea that it can be understood by most everyone. Perhaps that's one reason why Peter Pan has had such lasting appeal. There are tender and insightful moments in Peter Pan I'm glad I experienced.
However, as I mentioned earlier, the book is also heartbreaking. As much as it celebrates childhood and imagination, it also illustrates the loss of childhood belief, imagination, and carelessness. There is a part of you that doesn't want Wendy and her brothers to grow up. On the other hand, the book highlights some of the negative effects of that carelessness. Peter Pan the character is an embodiment of the good and bad of children. Imaginative and fun, yes, but also inconsiderate and neglectful.
I greatly enjoyed the way J.M. Barrie wrote the story. He often breaks the "fourth wall" by making comments directly to the reading audience or even asking the audiences questions regarding which element of the story he should tell next. It's a whimsical and endearing way to tell a story that doesn't feel contrived or pandering. J.M. Barrie has told a great little story in Peter Pan, and it's one of the classics that makes since being so.
Often certain stories have been told and re-told so many times when you come to the source material it can be a little jarring. I was never in love with the Disney version of Peter Pan, but I have had a very real affinity for the film Hook. In my own way, I have been a fan of the Peter Pan story for many years. Now I have a much better understanding as to why the source material is so well-loved. It's a wonderful love letter to imagination, mothers, childhood, and why it hurts so much when we have to grow up.
Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Peter and the Starcatchers
Reflections: Treasure Island
Reflections: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland