Peter Pan; the Boy Who Couldn’t Grow Up

One of my favourite stories is that of Peter Pan, written in 1904 by author and playwright J.M Barrie. He tells the tale of a mischievous boy gifted with the ability to fly, and most importantly, to stay young forever. His misadventures with pirates, mermaids, and lost boys have thrilled audiences for generations, with numerous adaptations to date. There is something in this story that captivates and truly enthralls the reader, which may be the magic and whimsy in staying young forever. Barrie wrote the character Pan based on his younger brother, who died at the age of 11 and was frozen in memory as forever young. Even though the character has unhappy roots, Pan himself is the gleeful picture of childhood innocence and imagination. His ability to stay young is one that many people waste away chasing after, and is one of the reasons this story is so popular.

To me, philosophy is the study of and search for knowledge and truth. It is inquisition into the deepest aspects of reality and existence. One does not have to consider themselves a philosopher, take a class in the subject, or even know what philosophy is to be able to participate and contribute to the pool of knowledge created by those with an interest to learn more about the world around them. This is similar to how Socrates defined the word, and what he based his life around accomplishing. In the Apology, Socrates explains that he was sent by the gods in order to teach, learn and search for the truth in every situation (Plato, 33d). Based on this definition of philosophy, I see myself engaging in this search for wisdom. I often contemplate and discuss with friends what we believe our meanings in life are, and have studied many religions and belief systems. While I have my own convictions as to what is truth in the case of meaning in life, I still want to expand my knowledge of the topic, and continue to learn more.

The original story of Peter Pan, which goes by Peter and Wendy, Peter Pan; the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, contains the famous quote “to die would be an awfully big adventure” (Barrie, 1904). The 1953 Disney adaptation of the movie, however, altered this to say: “to live would be an awfully big adventure” (Peter Pan, 1953). What is the reasoning and motivation behind this modification? Is it simply for the younger audiences watching this movie, that they not be upset over the use of the word “die”? I think that actually, there is deeper reasoning, with roots in philosophical concepts. Humans have long argued over notions of life after death. The use of the word “die” in this quote is I believe a play to the very human fear of mortality. It is implying some sort of continuation of experience post life, which may have made it a controversial line to include in the movie. Substituting the word “live” in the place of its forerunner may make this quote friendlier and more inviting, but it very much removes the original meaning Barrie seemed to be attempting to convey.

This story falls into the philosophical realm as it is an inquisition into mortality, the primary threat to the existence of man. Socrates himself would, I believe, be very intrigued by Peter Pan and his perpetual youth. As a person, whose death sentence was ordered because of his search for truth, Socrates would be able to appreciate Pan’s lack of fear in the face of death. Socrates faced death without fear as well, and did not see the reasoning in being afraid of something that did not concern the living.

Another philosophical theme evident in the story of Peter Pan is that of the meaning of life. It is often discussed that if there is no God, nothing awaiting us after we die, that there is no meaning to existence. The aforementioned quote however points to an afterlife, and therefore enters into this conversation. There is insufficient evidence as to whether Barrie himself was religious, but his indications through his show the hopefulness that he held for both himself and his deceased brother that in some sort of way their adventures would continue in the future. The story of Peter Pan raises the question of life having meaning if there was a way that one could live forever. Whether Peter Pan’s eternal youth is an allusion to an afterlife is unclear, but it makes one consider the possibilities of finding purpose if time was no factor. The story of Peter Pan, when carefully examined, holds many interesting philosophical themes that contribute to the greater pool of understanding of knowledge concerning the world and truth within it.


Works Cited

Barrie, James M. Peter Pan. United Kingdom: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911. Web. Apr 2017.

Peter Pan. Prod. Walt Disney. Dir. Clyde Geronimi. Perf. Bobby Driscoll. Disney, 1953.

Plato. “The Apology.” The Apology and Related Dialogues. Broadview Press. Peterborough, Ontario. 2016.