Are Peter Pan And The Lost Boys Dead?
This is a question that I've seen a lot of people asking, and since I'm pretty familiar with Peter Pan, I figured I might as well take it on. This article will explore reasons both in-universe and out-of-universe why Peter and the Lost Boys may or may not be or represent dead children.
The Facts & Evidence
JM Barrie's older brother, David: When JM Barrie was six years old, his older brother David fractured his skull in a skating accident and died one day shy of his fourteenth birthday. In their mother's imagination, David would remain a boy forever. This would inspire Barrie to create Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.
Peter Pan's origins in Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens: The character of Peter Pan first appeared in Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens. Now, it's important to note that Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens does not take place in the same continuity as Peter Pan. In Kensington Gardens, all children begin life as birds who become human upon being given to their parents... or at least, start becoming human. At seven days old, Peter flew away from his home because he was too young to understand that he wasn't a bird and that he shouldn't ought to be able to fly - because the ability to fly disappeared once one no longer had perfect faith that one could fly.
When Peter flies to Kensington Gardens and is told that he is no longer a bird, he doubts his ability to fly and therefore loses it. Peter is thus trapped in Kensington Gardens as a "betwixt-and-between," neither fully human nor bird. He is later granted the ability to fly by the fairies, but when he returns home he finds that the window has been blocked with iron bars, and his mother is holding another little boy.
Peter's connection to dead children in Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens: Peter is said to bury the bodies of children who die after getting lost in the gardens after lock-out time. Peter is also specified to have buried two children who fell out of their perambulators:
He [Peter] has been too late several times, and when he sees he is too late he runs back to the Thrush's Nest for his paddle ... and he digs a grave for the child and erects a little tombstone, and carves the poor thing's initials on it. ... He puts them in twos because they seem less lonely. I think that quite the most touching sight in the Gardens is the two tombstones of Walter Stephen Matthews and Phoebe Phelps. They stand together at the spot where the parish of Westminster St. Mary's is said to meet the Parish of Paddington. Here Peter found the two babes, who had fallen unnoticed from their perambulators, Phoebe aged thirteen months and Walter probably still younger, for Peter seems to have felt a delicacy about putting any age on his stone.
Peter Pan's origins in Peter Pan: In Peter Pan, the story that Peter tells Wendy echoes what happened in Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens.
"Long ago," he said, "I thought like you that my mother would always keep the window open for me, so I stayed away for moons and moons and moons, and then flew back; but the window was barred, for mother had forgotten all about me, and there was another little boy sleeping in my bed."
Peter Pan's connection to dead children in Peter Pan: The Peter Pan novel does associate Peter with dead children:
At first Mrs. Darling did not know, but after thinking back into her childhood she just remembered a Peter Pan who was said to live with the fairies. There were odd stories about him, as that when children died he went part of the way with them, so that they should not be frightened.
However, we must take note of two things: First, these are stories Mrs. Darling heard. It's never substantiated that Peter ever actually does this. Secondly, the children referred to in this passage are never said to be the Lost Boys.
The Lost Boys in Peter Pan: In Peter Pan, Peter tells Wendy that the Lost Boys are children who fell out of their perambulators:
"Yes," said cunning Peter, "but we are rather lonely. You see we have no female companionship."
"Are none of the others girls?"
"Oh, no; girls, you know, are much too clever to fall out of their prams."
This echoes Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens and Peter's burying of children who die after falling from their perambulators. But this also contradicts Kensington Gardens, in which one of the children who had died after falling from her pram was a girl.
Furthermore, the Lost Boys are said to grow up, and they can be killed:
The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.
At the end of the story, the Lost Boys return to England with Wendy and her brothers, and all of them grow up. Children who are already dead can't be killed, nor can they grow up.
The death of a child inspired the character of Peter Pan and while he's connected to dead children in both works, there is nothing to indicate that he himself is a dead child. While the Lost Boys may have been inspired by dead children, as characters they are most certainly not themselves dead.
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