When it comes to storytelling, who is the villain and who is the hero? Sometimes it depends on point of view.
Take Peter Pan. Originally written by J.M. Barrie, the story of the lost boy from Neverland has been popularized by Disney, on Broadway and on television. We all know the story of Peter Pan, the adventurous, valiant boy who refuses to grow up.
But what if Peter Pan as a character is someone much darker than we want to admit?
Over at Tor.com, Emily Asher-Perrin writes a terrific essay that reassesses this much loved childhood story, and she makes a convincing case that at best, Peter is a scary hero who comes close to being the true villain of the story.
Here’s a summary of her evidence:
–Neverland is a world that caters to his every desire. He’s the dictator of that realm. Whatever he says, goes. That’s a lot of power—maybe too much power—for a hero to possess.
–When Neverland gets too crowded with lost boys, Peter Pan thins out the herd. In her essay, Asher-Perrin uses a single word to describe this: murder. Ouch.
–He cares little for Wendy or her family apart from their ability to amuse him. When bored, he’ll just find another Wendy to take away.
–And then there’s Captain Hook. We’ve always believed he was the villain. But think about it: Peter Pan cut his hand off and fed it to a crocodile. No wonder Hook is pissed.
These are intriguing arguments. But the most compelling piece of evidence (which Asher-Perrin does discuss) is the sum of all this. Peter Pan is basically selfish. He’s a self-involved character who refuses to grow up, and who creates an entire world—Neverland—which is his to rule.
When you look at Peter Pan in this way — as a character whose growth has been stunted — it’s fitting that he loses his shadow. Carl Jung would have a field day with Peter Pan.
And then there’s the fact that in Greek myth, Pan is a hedonistic, wild, goat-like god. He’s all about pleasure, as is our supposed hero, Peter. When you add this all up, you get someone you’d definitely want to keep at arm’s length.