“Queering” Peter Pan

J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy, a novelization of his original play Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, touched on many dark themes. It was based upon the death of Barrie’s older brother as a child and the trauma it left on his mother. The role of Wendy as a mother character for Pan, her brothers, and the Lost Boys is indicative of this.

In the original play, and in the many other stage adaptations in the early to mid 20th century, Pan was played by a woman. In the 1953 Disney version many of the darker themes are glossed over and Pan is clearly male. However, his rejection of Wendy’s kiss and his relationship to the Lost Boys has been read as him being gay.

Perhaps this is part of why we begin to see an explosion of new adaptations of the Peter Pan character beginning in the 1990s and reaching a fever pitch in the 2000s. Although part of this sudden increase in new films, books, and plays about Pan may be related to the expirations and extensions of copyright on the character during this time, the more subversive interpretations of Peter Pan cannot be ignored. In fact the term “Peter Pan” became a slang term for gay men who refused to grow up.

Lost Boi by Sassafrass Lowery
Lost Boi by Sassafrass Lowrey

Lost Boi by Sassafrass Lowrey is just one recent example of how the tale of Peter Pan has been reinterpreted for a modern LGBTQ audience. Published in April 2015, it folllows a plot identical to that of Barrie’s original novel but paints the characters in a new light– making Peter Pan gay, portraying his sexual relations with the lost bois, and  making the mermaids into femmes, along with a number of other means of queering the narrative.

NBC's Peter Pan Live!
NBC’s Peter Pan Live!

Even when the retellings are not meant to be viewed as queer, in the modern world where LGBTQ perspectives permeate deeply, it can be easy to read them as such. The December 2014 showing on NBC of Peter Pan Live!, despite the intention that it would be straight and family friendly, was interpreted by a number of news outlets as being full of gay subtexts. One source even claimed that the costumes on the Lost Boys looked as if they were from “‘Barely Legal’ gay porn”.

Although sexuality is an important and interesting tool for helping us break into understanding why retellings remain necessary and popular today, it is not the only factor to consider. Part of what keeps the Peter Pan character relevant over 100 years after Barrie’s telling is that despite being written for a young audience, it easily takes on darker meanings for adults. The darkness of Peter Pan and his shadow combined with the innocence of wishing to remain a child forever is the sort of chiaroscuro that seems to always fascinate the collective human psyche.

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“Queering” Peter Pan

12 thoughts on ““Queering” Peter Pan

  1. @poulakose,

    I am really impressed! I have never heard this interpretation of Peter Pan before. First I really like how you supported this interpretation with many references. I also like how you imbedded links into your blog, this is very useful and looks professional.Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. poulakose says:

      Thank you! I hadn’t seen Peter Pan interpreted in this way until I read an article about The Lost Boi novel. I think it makes sense though and I’m glad you liked my analysis.

      Like

  2. You know I’ve seen these connections before but never actually put the two together! I would have never seen the connection (or would have realized for a few years) if you didn’t put it up on your blog. Great job, super impressed!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You picked a very interesting story filled with hidden meaning and room for interpretation. I feel like your writing style has really blossomed this semester, and reading your post made me feel like I was reading a review in the New York Times 🙂 Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. poulakose says:

      Thank you! I really appreciate that you think my writing style has gotten better, I’ve been working on that 🙂 It really is an interesting story and I think there’s a lot of ways to read and retell it.

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  4. Wow, I’m just seeing this blog post now, but I was SO excited when I did because I also just recently discovered this book! I think the interpretation is so interesting and I really want to read it to find out how the author made all the connections come to life. Have you read the novel yet or do you plan to?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. poulakose says:

      I was excited when I heard about it too. I haven’t read it yet, but I want to once my semester is over and I have more free time. It seems really interesting, I always think it’s fascinating when old tales are revamped for new generations.

      Like

  5. Wow! I guess you do learn something new every day. I had no idea about any of this. I really enjoy being out secret meaning of things or even the change over time of tales or movies so this whole article blew me out of the water. Really well done and thank you for teaching me about this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. poulakose says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you found my article to be so informative. A lot of it was new information for me too, so I enjoyed researching it.

      Like

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