Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie

…every spring cleaning time, except when he forgets, Peter comes for Margaret and takes her to the Neverland, where she tells him stories about himself, to which he listens eagerly. When Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter’s mother in turn; and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.

“Gay and innocent and heartless” is the perfect last line for J.M. Barrie’s classic novel about never growing up, because children can’t understand it. When I read this line as a child, it nagged at me for years, because I couldn’t reconcile the apparent contradiction. Innocence is the epitome of goodness, or so I thought.

But once I, like Wendy, betrayed Peter Pan by growing older, and reread the novel as an adult, the conclusion made perfect sense. Peter is the embodiment of guilelessness and joyfulness, and so is relentlessly charming, but is also terminally selfish. Innocence is unsustainable unless it is accompanied by a pure self-centeredness, which is why we never blink an eye when Peter forgets Wendy for decades, or is tempted to stab Wendy’s little daughter, Jane, shortly before the end. He wants to eliminate this child out of resentment, because she symbolizes the passage of time that has taken Wendy away from him, and reminds him of the reality that he would prefer to reject. But he doesn’t mean anything by it.

So what better day to celebrate this author than the ultimate symbol of the passage of time: his birthday. Happy 156th birthday, J.M. Barrie!

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