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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Top 100 Children’s Novels #86: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

#86 Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (1911)
23 points

When I finally read the actual Barrie book as an adult, I was mad — truly upset — that I had ever been exposed to another version prior. The book is brilliant – I was in love. – Aaron Zenz

Ah! It makes the list!  It didn’t last time, you see, so I wasn’t certain whether or not it would this time around.  Peter can be a mighty divisive book.  Some folks adore it and see it as a brilliant piece of work. Others are deeply disturbed by portions of it, or conflate its creation with its creator (two words: tampered will).  Whatever the case, you cannot deny that it is a cultural touchstone.  It has been reinterpreted over and over and over again.  Each generation gets the version of Peter Pan that they deserve.

The plot as taken from Anita Silvey is, “One night Wendy, John, and Michael Darling leave home and soar into the sky with Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up.  They land on an enchanted island, Neverland, filled with fairies, mermaids, and pirates.  All narrowly escape having to walk the plank; together they defeat Peter’s archenemy, the villainous Captain Hook.”

Not many remember that Peter’s first appearance in print wasn’t this book but rather in the 1902 mighty odd (my opinion) The Little White Bird.  Then he was a stage character in the 1904 production of Peter and Wendy.  And then he finally made it into his own book in 1911.

The Indians in the book have always set folks up with a bit of a conundrum.  Now this fall we’ll be seeing a young adult book coming out with Harper Collins called Tiger Lily.  Three guesses as to what it’s about, and the first two don’t count.

I knew I could count on at least one Peter Pan entry in Anita Silvey’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned In a Children’s Book and sure as shooting there one was.  Gail Carson Levine highlights all the things about the book that touched her, helped her and remained with her over time.  “After reading Peter Pan again and again and again, I was still mostly an obedient kid, but sometimes not.  Sometimes I joined the league of heartless, selfish children.  It was beneficial to me, if not for my parents . . . The book is subtle and wry.  I had to become subtle myself to get it.”

There have been lots of different types of Peter Pan sequels and prequels.  The approved ones are approved by the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, the location that continues to receive the funds from the play and the book as per J.M. Barrie’s will.  Geraldine McCaughrean’s Peter Pan in Scarlet was the last approved version I recall, though there may well have been others.

  • I think that it is fair to say that the number one Peter Pan fan I know, the man who defends it, loves it, talks it up, and writes about it, is the middle grade author Jonathan Auxier.  He once dedicated his blog to Pan for a solid week.  Check out those posts for all the background, inside, outside, and thorough information on all things Pan.

There are one or two cover images of the book out there.  This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

There was a staged production here in town at the New Victory that used puppets and a HUGELY talented leading lady who did all the voices.  Check this out:

Here next are highlights from Peter and the Starcatcher, the staged production of the Peter Pan prequel penned by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson:

You know, I mentioned this relatively recent film (2003) to a group of children’s literature folks yesterday and none of them remembered it. Sad because it really is my favorite Pan.  Either that or I just like watching Jason Isaacs shirtless.  Hm.  Jonathan Auxier has understandable problems with it (he’s absolutely right when he says that Peter is way too old) but I think a lot of liking it or not comes down to your appreciation of the source material.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. So, so, so glad to see this book made it onto the list. (Now if we can just get Carroll to make an appearance!). For those who love the book, it’s come to my attention that the brilliant Maria Tatar has just published an annotated edition of Peter Pan:

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      You know, I thought about including the Tatar edition in my covers round-up, then figured it wouldn’t quite fit in. I’m glad you mentioned it and I’d love to know your thoughts if you ever get your hands on a copy.

  2. I loved Peter Pan as a kid; had rather mixed feelings when I re-read it as an adult. Probably the way it’s supposed to be, actually! Regardless, I think it’s one of those books every kid ought to read at least once in their life.

  3. I remember that 2003 movie. It’s definitely my favorite film version, because it captures the melancholy inherent in the underlying concept (if you never grow up, what happens when all your friends do?). And yeah, Jason Isaacs is unreasonably hot as both Hook and Mr. Darling.

  4. I read it in full for the first time as an adult (actually: Had the incomparable Jim Dale read it to me on the audio). I had very mixed feelings about it, too, particularly the ending. So disappointed with regards to Wendy — whether in her or for her, I’m not quite certain.

  5. This is a classic I’ve never read and need to-all these comments and this post is especially making me want to-oh and see the move too. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Jason Isaacs shirtless. 🙂

  6. Yes, I’m sorry but I love the 2003 movie the most. Peter is a bit too old but I think it got the atmosphere of the story just right. And Jason Isaacs, shirt on or shirt off, is positively brilliant in both his roles.

  7. Peter Pan? Bummer. I’ve not yet done a close read of it, but I do have one on Peter Pan in Scarlet. That sequel is a doozy. On top of all the old stereotypes of Indians, we’re given a new one… Indians as throat slitters…

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      It’s strange that I never read that one, since I remember they were hyping it left and right when it came out. Bummer that they kept the “Indians” in. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Dave Barry did with them. Or for that upcoming YA Tiger Lily for that matter . . .

  8. Arthur Rackham’s illustrations win hands down for me:

  9. David Alexander says:

    Hello Mrs. Bird, I just need to understand: is the name of this book really Peter Pan or Peter and Wendy or does it just depend on the publisher and genaration?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      That is an EXCELLENT question and one that I confess I’ve always been a bit foggy on. To my best understanding, originally Barrie wrote the play Peter Pan and Wendy which was then later adapted into the book of the same name. What confuses me is the point at which the title was shortened to just “Peter Pan”. I suppose it’s similar to folks calling Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland just Alice in Wonderland or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a mere Wizard of Oz, but I would love it if I got some clarification on the date and reason for the name change.

  10. David Alexander says:

    Thank you for your answer Mrs. Bird( or Ms. Bird)! I think I found the answer to that because in my school library, there is this rack of the Classic Series books and I saw this book on there with just the title “Peter Pan” so I think it was shortened to Peter Pan. But I’m gonna help you out and do some research on it.