The Contrast Of Fairyland In Peter Pan English Literature Essay

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Fantasy and the fantastic were a popular subject in the early 19th century, growing from the popularity of the fairytale, and texts such as Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland"(1865) within the revolution of children's literature's 'first golden age' (Watson, 2009) , Victorian children were more revered and sacred than ever before, their literature focused on the child, bringing entertainment through the fantastical. Many visions of the fantastic such as fairyland were anthologised for children from original adult texts such as William Allingham's poem 'The Fairies' (1850) or depicted in plays like J.M Barrie's 'Peter Pan'(1904) .

By looking at these differing visions of fairyland, it will be seen how they compare and contrast to each other and to the ideas of traditional and Victorian fanciful ideas of fairyland.

'Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen' (Allingham, 2002, p7. 1-2) [1] , William Allingham's poem 'The Fairies', conveys a reflection of the countryside surrounding his Irish birthplace in Ballyshannon, an ancient town boasting its own Fairy Mound of Red Hugh (Highbeam Research, 2009). With his strong folklore roots influencing the essence of his poem, 'The Fairies', reiterates a conviction in the belief of mystical figures . While the ideas of fairies have changed, what remains constant is belief in their supernatural powers and their associations with birth, death and loss.

A.M. Barrie used his similar knowledge of fairy folklore to create an imaginary fairyland for Peter Pan, a summation of the Victorian fairy. Barrie was already a successful playwright, and it is viewed that this play was a culmination of his adult play 'Little White Bird', and the fairy play 'Bluebird in Fairyland'. His visions of fairyland as we shall see certainly seem to be wrought more so from the accepted fashion of fairies, and the views on treasured childhood, within the Victorian /Edwardian culture, and popular theatre . Stemming also from the imaginative play of his adoptive Llewellyn boys, Barrie takes the mythical folklore shown in 'The Fairies'. And discards and transforms these beliefs into his own individual view of fairyland.

Our popular image of the fairy stems from the tiny winged coquettes of Victorian fantasy depicted in the images of the Cottingley Fairies (1917), the supposedly real photographs of fairies taken by 2 young girls, portraying tiny, beautiful, delicate women with shimmering wings (Simanek 2009) they epitomized the stylistic ideals of how fairies were then viewed. This fairy symbolism carried into the theatre of the time in plays such as 'a midsummer's nights dream' (1596), and the phenomena of the Christmas fairy plays, later to mould into the pantomime.

Allingham and Barrie's portrayal of diminutive beings are far removed from their earliest folklore imagery, the fairies of ancient Ireland ,originated as a godlike race as large as mortals , the 'Tuatha De Danan', but through advancement of time and knowledge; 'the superhuman champion has become the little man with the green coat,' (Norreys et al,1920, p547) . Removed further from this heritage the little people became synonymous with birth and death, demons and fallen angels, and were thought to steal children and leave a weak fairy changeling in return.

In Peter Pan, Barrie delivers a much opposing view of the origin of the fairy, 'when the first baby laughed …the laugh broke into a thousand pieces …and that was the beginning of the fairies' (Barrie, 2008, Act I, I. 400-5) [2] . Bringing them back again to imagination, children create fairies and they create fairyland, to believe in them you need to be as a child. His play also encompasses the theme of birth and death, Mrs. Darling vaguely remembers Peter as accompanying dead children and both himself and the lost boys are dead to their parents, as they are to them.

Visions of fairyland in both texts have emerged from and engaged with the culture that shaped them (Greenhalgh 2009). Allinghams poem , is set in an old world environment dominated by fairies, as in folklore they live in nature and are unavoidable, in mountains, hillsides, beaches, and lakes. We see Columbkill, 'Slieveleague to Rosses' crossed by the ancient fairy king, areas of great natural beauty in Ireland. He Crosses on a bridge of 'white mist'(Fairies ),on his 'stately journeys '(F), suggesting his weightlessness , and ability to fly without wings also seen with Peter Pan, as he visits other royal fairies 'the queen of the gay northern lights'(F), indicating widespread fairy kingdoms.

In contrast Barrie's, Peter Pan, claims to have run away and lived with the fairies in Kensington gardens, later moving on to Neverland - the faraway outerworld land of the fairies, rather than innerworlds of fairy moulds of Allingham. A fanciful, and magical place, that is moulded by the imagination of the children ………….Michael had ….. , and wend had ……' yet controlled fully by Peter Pan 'he controls the night and day the sun, and seasons' (PP,). We can then conclude that Peter is himself a fairy, and his dominance, would suggest he is the fairy king , or god , Pan, the mythological faun god of ancient Greece, representing Nature, Spring, and fertility, he is fact a symbol of natural fertility 'clad in skeleton leaves and the juices that ooze out of trees' (PP 20) represented also when Wendy re-visits for spring cleaning (PP) ,and strikingly shown in their shared love of the panpipes.

A major contrast between play and poem, is the representation of time and death, the fairies although classed as immortal, age, as with the old king, 'He is now so old and gray, He's nigh lost his wits.'(Fairies,) obviously their life span or rather concept of time being far different than ours, humans taken to fairyland conform to this longevity , as in the sad fate of little Bridget, dying of sorrow as after seven years in fairyland equated to centuries here.(Fairies)

Peter Pan by contrast of course never grows up, epitomising forever childhood, he does however represent a dangerous, and fickle figure, equating again to Pan, and the childish ignorance of mortal needs by gods and supernatural beings 'How he would like to rip those stories out of her; he is dangerous now' (PP, I.I, 495), also shown in the maliciousness of Allingham's fairies, who will leave thorns in the bed of those who cross them.

Pan creates and kills at a whim, but has no real concept of time or his actions such as when he forgets Captain Hook 'I forget them when I have killed them ' (), and even the lost boys die 'some are killed or he gets rid of them if they show signs of growing up'(PP). Although Peter himself shows no sign of age or death, his fairies do 'they have such short lives …… (PP), almost as though they are only a part of Peters controlling imagination, as is the pirates, indians and the fairyland itself. Time however does seem to run in parallel, the darling children in contrast return to their world in the same timescale .

Both texts reveal kidnap of children, Peter lures the darlings 'there's mermaids Wendy' (PP). While Allingham tells a traditional tale of fairies who take mortals to their world, 'they stole little Bridget, away' (Fairies). The essence is that nowhere is safe , certainly not straying from home ' we daren't go a hunting for fear of little men ' , to meet a fairy can mean to be taken , and in effect loosing your life to fairy time . Similar to the cautionary tales, of particularly young girls straying into the clutches of men, as representative in many fairy tales. Allingham acknowledges this similarity in his reference to "Snow White", as Bridget is returned and kept in death 'on a bed of flag leaves' in the bottom of a lake watched by little men till she wake, the fairies are not aware of her death .Unlike Neverland, death seems to be either an unknown concept, or as with Peter Pan mortal existence is simply not acknowledged.

Both texts also represent dangers close to home, the children are abducted from their own nursery, Bridget was quite possibly stolen from her home, and the lost boys taken when falling from their prams. Perhaps both replaced with fairy changelings, as Peter Pan states, his window was barred and another in his place' (PP). Indicating a further danger, boys stray, but girls ' are too smart to fall from their prams' (PP) twentieth century girls were cosseted at home, but fairies are able to enter through locked doors whether to place thorns in a bed or to steal children . There is perhaps a subtle warning on allowing the danger in, and as with Wendy being led astray, the stranger may well be disguised as a friend. A disturbing subtext when viewed with Barrie's own befriending of the Llewellyn boys. Both fairylands keep the child as a child as long as they remain, but their returns can mean death, either physical or death of childhood, and innocence.

In some ways there is little difference between story telling, poem and play , 'The Fairies' is a hybrid text, of narrative prose and poetry which, with its almost song like formation , its also gives us a dynamic aspect of storytelling , creating its frightening vision of fairyland and tale of kidnap. Similarly Barrie's esoteric vision of fairyland traverses well into theatre however as Peter Pan has never been just a play, it can and does easily transform into other media. Peter Pan although scripted to be performed also has a narrative, a particularly excessive narrative that could not be fully reproduced on stage .Thus relating back to its story telling origins, seen in its act 4 - 'do you believe in fairies ? Say quick that you believe' (PP 4.I 280), a unique departure from traditional plays .We see direct audience participation with its question and answer as in story telling or as White et al (2009) , would suggest ,pantomime . Bringing us back to the emergence of the storyteller and its aural traditions of the folk and fairy tale( Swann 252 reader 2) , elements of which are found in both texts.


Peter Pan, is a play reflecting the transient nature of childhood, as Roses states it is an 'adult fantasy of the child '(R1), Barries alteration of the traditional folklore shows this in, when Wendy asks Peter where Tinkerbell is, and he doesn't remember her …supposing she is dead, a sad reminder how children have short memories in childhood, fleeting contact with both magical and real companions, as the once valued are forgotten, a lost world highly prized by adults. Barrie gives a unique vision of fairyland, children's carefree imagination creates it and their disbelief destroys it .Barrie sees the time of childhood imagination decreasing as the world develops ''Children know such a lot now. Soon they don't believe in fairies, and every time a child says 'I don't believe in fairies' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead'(PP 1.1 410) signifying earlier death to childhood, as children mature quicker . Even with the first laugh of every baby creating a fairy, there are still 'nearly all dead now' (PP, I.I, 405).With Barries love of children and their imagination, perhaps this is also a lament that this period is not given sufficient time, within his time of writing child labour and colonialism was still much in evidence, children were forced to grow up quickly. It can also be seen as a plea to adults to re-create their own carefree youth, something which the adult audiences of his play, had no hesitation in doing, in response to Barrie's pantomime request 'do you believe in fairies ?', suspending their belief and becoming a child again.

In a similar manner 'The Fairies', can also be seen as the death of childhood, Bridget remains a child only in fairyland, to leave represents the loss of a child to actual death, or to adulthood, like Peter Pan, it gives the same sense of the nineteenth century view of precious childhood, obscurely touching on the approach to puberty, and the loss of a daughter to marriage and childbirth.

Despite having their major contrasting ideas of fairyland both poem and play explore 'the ambiguities of an adult desire to preserve childhood as an aesthetic spectacle' (EA300, Block 3, p128), and use fairyland as a means to preserve this most fleeting and precious commodity.