I read an article this morning in the latest Horn Book Magazine about Peter Pan.  In the article, Peter Pan. I am he. I am not, the author, Emily Jenkins, mourns the fact that while the stage version of the story allows for girls to imagine they are Peter Pan, the book and Disney movie version did not.  This saddens her.  She describes her extreme dislike of Wendy and her love for Peter thus:

“I couldn’t bear to be boxed in as Wendy boxes herself, with Peter’s complicity: she sews on pockets and prepares meal in the underground lair, spending her Neverland time playing Edwardian household rather than having adventures.  I didn’t want to be her, I wanted to be Peter.  And therefore I wanted to be a boy.”

When I was younger I thought I was the only little girl to feel this way.  To be indignant that the boys got the snakes and snails and puppy dog’s tails (the greatest injustice, for I loved puppies) and girls were left with sugar and spice and everything nice (yes, I loved sugar, but as much as puppies? No way!).  I now know many women who felt that way.  To know that it’s not weird and that these are the women I tend to respect more anyway is a a great validation. 

I do not think that a character like Wendy would (pardon the pun) fly in today’s age of Hermione Granger, Charlotte Doyle and, in this book, Molly Aster (who is described on the book website as nothing less than indomitable).  Girls in books today do a whole more than they used to (with obvious exceptions).  Though there is still the stigma that they shouldn’t be doing these things, it’s hard to tell if it’s because they are children or because they are girls.  They are written as active characters instead of pretty background decorations or demure plot devices (in this book that is left entirely to Lady Aster and she does it well, which is to say you forget she even exists). 

Which brings about a kind of conundrum that is inevitable when writing a modern prequel to a book written almost a century ago.  Molly was created to appeal to modern girls, ones that don’t take kindly to sewing or cooking or taking care of little boys (at least not yet, they may when they find it ironically retro).  There is an implication that she would grow up to become a modern woman – one more concerned with self fulfillment, adventure and challenges than isolating and suffucating stereotypes.   Really, could the young girl who ran away from her mother and stowed away on a ship to Mollusk Island and Rundoon really be content to live within four walls for the rest of her life?  No, definitely not.

So how then, since she is ostensibly Wendy’s mother, did the daughter become so much less adventurous then her mother?

The answer of course is that Wendy is the neglected daughter of 1911 and Molly is the attributive daughter of 2007.  Each reflects their time without encompassing it entirely.  In other words, they are worlds apart. 

And we’re not just talking Neverland.

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