J.M. Barrie's most famous and enduring work, Peter Pan had its first stage performance on December 27, 1904, at the Duke of York's Theatre in London.
It is six o'clock at the home of the Darling family in a leafy London street, and Nana, the nurse (a large Newfoundland dog, for the Darlings cannot afford a regular nurse), is preparing to put the three Darling children to bed. She turns down the covers, opens the taps for the baths with her nose, and finally brings in Michael, the youngest, on her back.
Mrs. Darling, the loveliest of ladies, comes to say good night to her children, for she and Mr. Darling are going out to dinner. As she enters the nursery, she thinks she sees a strange little face outside the window, but is reassured when she finds Michael, Wendy and John all accounted for.
She tells Mr. Darling that once before a strange little boy had been seen in the house, but that he had escaped out the window when Nana leaped at him. It is her opinion that he has come back to get his shadow which had been snipped off by the window closing, but she cannot explain a tiny ball of light which had darted about the room while the boy was there. But Mr. Darling (in a testy mood because one of his jokes has gone awry) quiets his wife's fears and insists upon chaining Nana downstairs. The parents then leave for their party.
The children fall asleep. Soon a little ball of light appears in the darkened nursery, darting into bureau drawers and the wardrobe. Then, through the window flies Peter Pan, dressed mostly in autumn leaves and cobwebs. The light guides him to the drawer where his shadow has been left, and as he is trying to stick it back on again with soap, Wendy awakens. She and Peter talk. She tries to put her arms about him when he tells her that he hasn't any mother, but he warns her that no one must ever touch him.
Wendy sews on Peter's shadow for him and, in lieu of a kiss (he doesn't even know what one is), gives him her thimble; he reciprocates with an acorn button from his clothing. Peter explains that he ran away the day he was born "because I heard Father and Mother talking of what I was to be when I became a man. I want always to be a little boy and have fun." So he ran away and lived with the fairies. Fairies, he tells her, are the laughter of new babies, but one dies every time a child says: "I don't believe in fairies." He explains that the ball of light is Tinker Bell, a fairy who mends the fairy pots and kettles. She and Peter speak the fairy language (like a tinkle of bells), but Peter declares that she is quite "a common girl"; a little jealous of Wendy, she is given to saying "silly ass" and pulling Wendy's hair. Peter tells Wendy that he lives in Never Land with the Lost Boys--the children who fall out of their prams. He has come to the nursery to hear stories to carry back to tell them. When Wendy boasts that she knows many stories, Peter induces her to come with him to Never Land to be a mother to the boys. He then sprinkles fairy dust on all the Darling children and off they fly--just as the suspicious Nana, who has broken her chain, returns, bringing the Darlings from the party.
In Never Land, which has a forest and a lovely lagoon beyond, the six Lost Boys, all clad in the furs of animals which they think they have shot, are awaiting Peter. They are Nibs, Peter, Curly, the First and Second Twins, and Slightly, who declares his name is Slightly Soiled because that is what his mother had written on his pinafore. They all scurry through holes in hollow trees to their underground home when Captain Hook, a fearsome pirate with an iron hook for a right hand, approaches in a boat with his villainous crew, bawling a grisly chantey of the Spanish Main.
Hook is constantly bent on capturing the boys. He particularly wants Peter, for Peter once worsted him in combat and threw his arm to a crocodile, and now the crocodile is trailing Hook to eat more of him. Fortunately, the creature has also swallowed a clock, and so far the ticking in its stomach has warned the pirate of its approach. Just as the pirates come after the boys, the ticking is heard again and they flee, followed by their enemies, Indian Tiger Lily and countless of her braves of the Piccaninny tribe.
Wendy now approaches, flying among the treetops in her white nightgown. The boys, at Tinker Bell's jealous urging, and thinking her a strange sort of bird, try to shoot her down with a bow and arrow; but the missile strikes Peter's "kiss," the acorn, and Wendy is unhurt. Peter, followed closely by the sleepy Michael and John, who wears a stovepipe hat, arrives. They all quickly build a little house around Wendy, using John's hat for a chimney. Wendy gathers all the boys together to tell them bedtime stories, while Peter stands guard outside against pirates and wolves. The glow of inquisitive fairies dots the darkness.
The Darling children and the Lost Boys now begin a fascinating series of adventures. They try to capture mermaids in the lagoon; they rescue Tiger Lily from Marooners' Rock where the pirates have tied her, and the boys battle and defeat the pirates (the villains had hoped to capture Wendy to be their mother).
But Wendy, somewhat miffed because Peter feels only a filial respect for her, begins to worry about her parents. Peter, sorrowfully remembering his desertion of his own mother and father, agrees that the children should go home. The boys are rebellious--until Wendy has an inspiration and invites them all home with her. Peter refuses to go, but he plans to have the Indians and Tinker Bell guide them home. They have reckoned without Hook, however. The pirates, in a dastardly attack, defeat Tiger Lily's braves and capture the children. Hook leaves poison for Peter, who is asleep. Tinker Bell drinks it to save him, but she is revived in time when Peter calls upon all children who believe in fairies to clap their hands as a sign of faith.
Peter trails the pirates and their captives to the pirate ship where the children are about to be made to walk the plank. By a succession of gallant and wily maneuvers, he frees the boys, and in a hot battle the pirates are defeated. Peter himself engages Hook, baffling him with the brilliance of his swordplay.
HOOK: 'Tis some fiend fighting me! Pan, Who and what art thou?
PETER: I'm youth, I'm joy. I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg.
Hook, defeated, finally resigns himself to the waiting crocodile, and the children, accompanied by Peter, fly off to the Darling home. Here Nana, as usual, though now a little cynically, has laid out their night things. Mr. Darling, in remorse, is living in Nana's kennel.
Peter at first wants Wendy to stay with him always, but, moved by seeing Mrs. Darling's tears ("Come on, Tink; we don't want any silly mothers"), he opens up the window for the children to fly in. The Darling's joyously welcome their offspring and happily adopt all the Lost Boys. Nana assumes the importance of a nurse who will never have another day off. Wendy flies to Peter, who is playing his pipes outside, and asks if he would like to say anything to her parents about a very sweet subject--about her; but Peter only says "No." Mrs. Darling wants to adopt him, too, but as he won't consider school and manhood, it is settled that Wendy may visit him once a year in Never Land to do his spring house-cleaning for him.
A year later, in Never Land, Wendy (now a little older and unable to see the ageless Peter quite as clearly) has finished cleaning Peter's house and is going home. She says, pleading that Peter call for her again next year: "If another little girl--if one younger than I am----" She can't go on; she wishes she could hug him, but he draws back. She says resignedly: "Yes, I know," gets astride her broomstick (she no longer flies as easily) and soars homeward.
"In a sort of way he understands what she means by 'Yes, I know,' but in most sorts of ways he doesn't. It has something to do with the riddle of his being. If he could get the hang of the thing his cry might become: 'To live would be an awfully big adventure!' But he can never quite get the hang of it, and so no one is as gay as he. With rapturous face he produces his pipes, and the Never birds and the fairies gather closer till the roof of the little house is so thick with is admirers that some of them fall down the chimney. He plays on and on till we wake up."
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