The tale of Peter Pan is riddled with dark implicities and truths that have been muddled with a century’s worth of dualities. This dissertation explores the notion of duality within a character that can create immense complexity, as it itself becomes a driver for character development. Pan exists in a moral grey area, which is where this research takes place in order to identify the core elements of Pan’s self. What has driven his evolution and representation since his conception? A survey looks into the public perception of Pan’s identity – whether it leans towards Pan as a hero or villain, and to gauge the audience’s openness to a female or androgynous reinterpretation of the character. The final project which is featured below, like Pan, plays into the audience’s presence and encourages interaction and curiosity through interactive art that is a blend of animation and illustration.
Pan has experienced a remarkable evolution over his existence, both physically and personality-wise. From book to stage, rewritten into a book once more, and finally hitting the screen - Peter Pan has never looked the same.
Explore some of his more pronounced iterations below!
Click the info button 'i' at the top right corner to choose what wall you want to see next
(you will be redirected to youtube once you choose the first wall to view!)
hint: keep your eyes peeled, things aren't all they appear to be
A closer look at Pan's direct duality of self
Featuring the most prominent of Pan's identities
In J.M. Barrie's 1902 publication The Little White Bird, Pan perhaps started out as a more innocent figure, albeit being born with a mischievous smile and devilish streak. He quickly becomes the life of the party where the faeries are involved, who try to trick him into staying with them forever. He is curious and clever, seeing the world as his playground, wanting nothing more than to be able to play with the other children in the gardens, but is prevented from doing so. He possesses the charm to talk his way into/out of anything, ensuring things always go his way. This is seen when the faeries offer him a big wish, he instead requests two little ones, using one of them to be taken back to his mother.
This is where his identity starts to divulge, as he finds his mother with an open window, pleading in restless sleep for his safe return. He genuinely wishes to return to her and is giddy, excited to see her face twist into delight once she sees him. However he is innately selfish, and knows not the consequences of presumptions. Pan flies back to the faeries, for “just one more night” of play and fun, fully intending to go back. However when one does not grow time is irrelevant, and he stays for much longer than a night. Upon his eventual return home he finds the window barred, another baby in his mother’s arms. He yells out in vain and returns to Kensington Gardens defeated, instigated by a new anger and severe distrust, accompanied by an onslaught of emotional turmoil, having experienced the most intense and extreme form of rejection at merely (a relative) seven days old. He starts urging other children to join him, and they initially all want to be with him until they realise the sacrifice of their family. This inspired Barrie to name his play “The boy who hated mothers”, but was convinced against it, to avoid box office disaster.
In Barrie’s screenplay Peter Pan(1904), as well as his book Peter and Wendy (1911) the audience witnesses a manipulative, devious, scheming, selfish and utterly cocky Pan. He is the captain of imagination, leading the wandering lost boys into life-threatening pirate wars, eyes gleaming with mischief. Everything he does is make-belief, ad he does not want to experience anything remotely real. This includes meals, and he expects the boys to play along, acting satisfied and full regardless of the physical presence of food. Alas he is not as bulletproof as he seems, being known to cry in his dreams, plagued by nightmares, longing to be loved and protected -which he would never admit.
He is destined for the tragedy of abandonment, barred from ‘the one joy he can never have’. He has the Lost Boys for companions, however they can only survive while they remain young, it is heavily implied in Peter and Wendy (1911) that he murders them once they no longer look young; “The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, accordin-ing as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out;”.
He reacts to everything with a limited learned emotion, as complex feelings (such as love and true empathy) come with age. It is “part of the riddle of his being”. One cannot help comparing Pan against Hook, who is in ways his total opposite; “old, alone, done for”, and yet exactly the same; ruthless, wielding a magnetic charm, surrounding themselves with company who will not question their authority. He is a man tormented by loneliness and aching sadness, constantly taunted by the very embodiment of youth (Pan), but emotionally developed enough to be self-aware.
These twisted origins result in a character wrought with complex dualities, fueled by rejection and grief. Pan is far more than what the general population believe him to be.
Peter Pan as seen in 'Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens', illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1906)