Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dreaming of Neverland


J.M. Barrie's PETER PAN** 

Every once in a while, I wake from a dream and remember the strange place I have been visiting.  It is only familiar in those vaporous moments between sleep and wakefulness.  A peculiar house is there with white peeling paint, a spiral staircase that leads up to a room with walls made of glass, and views of the island in every direction.  I remember in that moment that I have been there before.  I remember Neverland.

If I were still a child, I would know better than to rub the sleep from my eyes.  It breaks the magic of memory.  The only way to return (if only in my dreams) is after a childlike day – perhaps spent at Disneyland, wearing mouse ears and eating cotton candy – or building living room forts with my children.  It absolutely cannot return unless licorice has been consumed and something odd has been worn as a hat. 

But grownups like me forget the important things so easily.  We must, if we are to be respected.  This is why George Darling could never remember.

I wonder, then, how J.M. Barrie held on to his memories of Neverland – at least long enough to write them down so that we could read Peter Pan with a sense of puzzled wonder, (or, if we are too much like Mr. Darling, with enough conviction to udder: “Poppycock!”)  Perhaps it helped that he sometimes laid his manuscript aside to teach Michael to ride a bike, Peter to bowl and little George to cast a fishing line.*

Neverlands vary a great deal, of course, but it is Barrie himself who reminds us that “Neverland is always more or less an island.”  Mine is always dotted with quizzical architecture.  John’s had a lagoon and he lived there in a boat turned upside down, while Michael lived in a wigwam.  We all know that Wendy lived in a house of leaves, sewn so deftly together that wind could not find its way inside, for all that it tried.

I think Wendy is the key to the whole question of when we begin to forget.  My daughter is exactly her age, and I am touched by sadness as I watch the child struggle with the woman.  I wonder if she will one day – like Wendy – hear a voice inside her crying: “Woman, woman, let go of me!”  It hasn’t happened yet.  The girl part of her is still strongest, especially at night when the nightlights are lit and she, like any other girl, cannot resist the hope that tonight, it won’t be just a winking light, but an actual fairy visiting her room.

It is the disappointment of this hope that is the beginning of the end.  Fairies very rarely appear, and when they do, they are usually disappointing, being as Lilliputian in heart as Tink. (A fairy’s petty nature may be why they are rumored to be distant kin to the Lilliputians, but I find no evidence of common lineage.) 

When an adolescent girl stops looking for fairies, she sighs and tucks away other hopes as well.  After that, she loses her dreams bit by bit until a woman stares back at her in the mirror.  Some dreams she gives away as kisses and thimbles, hopeful of love.  One she saves forever.   

But a girl can’t help being sensible when it comes right down to it.  Even Peter admitted that.  Wendy knew she would one day grow up, just as she understood Peter never could.  But, oh, how she longed to stay with him in Neverland!  She never gave up this hopeless longing, but made a secret of it, which her husband and children later saw on the corner of her mouth: the hidden kiss that only belonged to Peter.

I’m afraid that Barrie’s memories of Neverland did not stay with him until the end of the book.  Perhaps he fell asleep after writing chapter fifteen and recklessly rubbed sleep from his eyes when he woke.  We find him rather grown up in chapter sixteen, taking the side of Mr. and Mrs. Darling and slandering the children as selfish brats who, when finding the nursery window open on their return, got more than they deserved. 

Losing Neverland made him sad enough to write wistfully: “On these magic shores, children at play are forever beaching their coracles. We too have been there: we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.”

But I still want to row to shore.   And sometimes, when I lay down at night, a secret expectation is hidden in the corner of my sleepy smile.  I hope for magic.  I hope for just one more glimpse of Neverland.

*Read excerpts from Barrie’s delightful letters at http://www.jmbarrie.co.uk/

**To purchase J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, composed and conducted by Benjamin Wallfisch, follow this link: http://www.amazon.com/J-M-Barries-Peter-Pan/dp/B003PS9IWU/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1336532710&sr=1-1

"Dreaming of Neverland" is my addition to a trio of blog posts written to honor J.M. Barrie on the anniversary of his birth.  I would like to offer my special thanks to Jen at literallyjen.com, for organizing this tribute.  Read Jen's post here: http://www.literallyjen.com/2012/05/book-review-capt-hook-by-j-v-hart/.  The third contributor was Melissa, whose post can be found here: http://kaleidoscopicreveries.blogspot.com/2012/05/happy-birthday-j-m-barrie.html