In order to have a Mother, you have to grow up.


Long before he was a Disney movie, Peter Pan was a minor character in a novel, then a play, then a book. He has been (and will be) the subject of so many adaptations that it is odd to speak of the “original” Peter Pan, but if you only know the movie adaptations (many of which are very good), try reading the book too.

The book is an Edwardian dream, almost surely written for children but with adults in mind. It is worth studying. If you are growing, Peter presents a challenge: he is the boy who never grew up and never wished to. As such, he has become an odd hero . . . a model for a generation of men and women who decided that did not want to grow up either. He has become an emblem for the self-indulgent boy-man. 

This is odd, because Peter Pan begins in sorrow. Peter was “flown away” from his nursery and never had a mother. He is a lost boy, surrounded by other lost boys. The Darling family, the main people with whom he interacts, place his state in stark contrast. They are an eccentric and endearing group. Father is overly worried about “bankruptcy” and the nurse is a dog, but Mother is darling, possessing a mystery and beauty that nobody ever, quite, captures. Mrs. Darling helps us see that growing up without Mother is no bargain, but a deep loss.


A good person with a perfect mother would nevertheless change over time because his relationship with Mother would change him as their relationship changes.


Here is a hard reality that JM Barrie, the eccentric genius behind Pan, understood: childhood ages Mother and Father, and Mother and Father age their children. Growing up is a biological process (of course), but it is also social. We are born to Mother and first experience her love and care. She is originally All, then Caregiver, then Authority, as experience changes us. Finally, she is a human, if one reaches maturity. We rise up to have a new relationship with her. 

We change our relationship to her not because something is wrong or needs to be fixed, but because we must grow to meet her. A good person with a perfect mother would nevertheless change over time because his relationship with Mother would change him as their relationship changes. Few households have ever been perfect (whatever that would mean), but even if your mother was Mary and your father was Joseph, you still had to grow up socially. You still had to grow to relate to your parents as fellow humans.

If you will not grow up, you cannot have Mother or Father anymore. You will not rise to meet them. Your relationship will always be old, stale, and false. And if you will not grow up, you also (in the same way) cannot have meaningful friends. You will be trapped in superficial relationships playing at friendship, like Peter was. Real friendship, like real family, must age a man. To be in long-term relationships (like Peter never could be) we must grow up.


Neverland is not a place where anyone can really live. 


Rejecting Pan, we must therefore never make the mistake that growing old is loss. Growing old is good! Nobody who is an actual adult would ever return to childhood. An adult has retained the memories of childish joys, but is accustomed to new, fuller pleasures. The delights of childhood can only be preserved if one never grows in any form whatsoever. Such preservation is not worth its cost.

I want to grow up and keep growing for all eternity. I don’t want to become static, or give up on long-term relationship, like Peter did. Neverland is not a place where anyone can really live. 


 


Read more about Peter Pan at John Mark's blog

Excerpt from What Walt Taught Me: Peter Pan:

"Wendy is a child growing into an adult. Her father wants to rush her out of the nursery and Peter wants her to stay, but Wendy knows she will grow up in due time. This is the ideal that is so rare in this or any other time. Childhood is a good time, not the only good time. As with any good thing, certain people wish to prolong the good thing past the point when it is good. The child becomes merely childish and there are few things less attractive than the fifty-something Peter Pan."

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