shoot the wendy bird (or, why tinkerbell should be considered a feminist idol): reading peter pan

This week I have come to realise that I have more in common with Tinkerbell than I ever thought possible … read into that what you will.

I don’t ring bells when I want attention (though no-one has been brave enough to give me a bell, just in case) and I just don’t have the figure for a tiny green dress, but this week I’ve realised Tink and I tend to agree on one rather specific point:

Shoot the Wendy Bird.

Now that I’ve put it out there, I have to admit that I struggled a little with this week’s read, so before I go any further, I am dreadfully sorry to all those who love classic storytelling.

To my unending shame, it wasn’t until the final pages that I really began to like JM Barrie’s Peter Pan.

From start to (a little before) the finish, I was torn between the obvious talent Barrie has for real, classic, undeniable storytelling and the cringe worthy patriarchal values that are riddled throughout.

The one thing that I definitely learned for certain was if you are looking to institutionalise some pretty ridiculous old-world values, throw in some pirates, lost boys and a crocodile with a tick and you’ll get away with all but murder.

Now, if the idea of gender politics pre-dating even the earliest feminist movements makes you squeamish and if the idea of a girl being confined to wash, cook and sew in a tree house, while the boys go out and have adventures, makes you feel a little like projectile vomiting … maybe don’t read this one.

Having said that (like many 19th and early 20th Century books) it was really a case of just writing these silly gender ideals off given that the book (published in 1911) came well before the feminist movements in the 60’s that really called women out of the kitchen and into the world. So the old-world values on their own didn’t really bother me that much.

What drove me bat-crap crazy was realising that Peter Pan is more of a story that we would read to children—children who, we may be fairly safe in assuming, have not made an extensive study of women’s struggles over the past … hundred years.

And this was where I started to side with Tinkerbell—basically because Wendy was so petty and silly (even given the context that the book is basically one big imaginary game of playing house) that it drove me completely full-frontal wack-a-doodle.

It really wasn’t until the end that I managed to let go of my silly feminist ideals (read with incredibly sarcastic finger quotey things) and just enjoy the book for what it is.

As much as I fault the poor values in the novel, Barrie really is a masterful storyteller.

Taking a little bit of just about every fairy-tale (pirates, mermaids, fairies, lost children, islands, treasure, savages (pfft!), flying, running away, and so on) Barrie jams the whole lot into one amazing imaginary place.

And while I whinge a bit now, I have to admit that the beautifully melancholic ending had me completely hooked (no pun intended).

In all, this is a book that will test your ideals, but in the end it is one of the truly masterful fairy tales that will have you in fits of childish nostalgia when you read the final chapter.

From the friend who almost cried when he realised he’d forgotten how to fly, and now won’t give up diving head-first off the bed,

Curiosity 

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