“If you were asked to rewrite/modernize a classic novel, which one would you want to adapt?”
There’s a very good question.
I have tried hard to read or listen to classics. I read a great deal all of my life and tried even when a teen to catch up with ‘classics’, which I kept up for a long time, well, until I had kids, and then it slowed down,(but never stopped). As I have mentioned, I have discovered that well-read audiobooks are a Godsend to me and I have knocked off quite a number of good, and also great, books, contemporary and classic.
One of my most recent audio ‘reads’ and one that surprised me the most was “Peter Pan”.
I have seen many renditions of the story, the first was a televised black and white version with Mary Martin. Some of you may not be old enough to know that she was the first to play Peter as a musical version onstage. It was revamped in the 70s big-time with whatever small, slim female star was making the rounds of fame back then, (including a gold medal Olympic gymnast).
I can’t say that I was wild about it, but we all know the Disney cartoon and several other live-action movies, so out of curiosity, I listened to it a month ago.
I was amazed that the Disney and other movies were pretty faithful to the book, with a few exceptions.
I found that the story was humorous and well-written. Although J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were younger, their times overlapped with Peter Pan’s author J.M. Barrie, (along with his contemporary Jerome K Jerome and others). They had the same type of humor, which I enjoy very much.
Like Mary Poppins, (which I have reviewed here), a major part of the story is the redemption of the children’s father. It is a very good message that every father should hear and, or at least, every child should so they realize that his original behavior should not be the norm.
The problems of Peter Pan need to be addressed and updated. I truly enjoyed the book, and it was about time that I experienced it, but there were quite a number of “YIKES” that came to mind.
For one, the father wasn’t just self-adsorbed and put everything before his children, he got a dog to be a nanny because he was a cheapskate. He forced the dog to take his own, terrible human medication, which made her sick, then he beat her. Repentance or not, this was not acceptable, (even though him taking to staying in her cage in penance was more than amusing.)
The mother was portrayed as a total ninny. She hardly had thought of her own and if she did, she dismissed it. All she had was a mother’s steadfast heart, which is good, but not enough.
In Neverland, well, where to start? The racism is uncontrolled. The Indians are written as ignorant and bloodthirsty, and referred to by a terribly racist word formerly used for the children of slaves.
The Irish don’t fare well there, either.
The battles are bloody. The Lost Boys are written sympathetically, but even they are deadly and not shy about waging gruesome battle.
I found it all very unsettling.
Another thing that didn’t sit well with me was Wendy’s overt advances to Peter for a romantic relationship. I had wondered why Tinkerbell was as scantily clad and had a shifted hour-glass figure in the Disney cartoon film, but that is exactly how Barrie described her in his story. The rivalry and jealousy she showed in the movie for Wendy was close to the book, but Wendy’s behavior was toned-down by Disney. She took her role of ‘mother’ and Peter’s as ‘father’ to the boys way too far. She wanted to have a true marriage with Peter, but he rebuked her advances.
Good for him, but Peter was no saint. He not only cut Hook’s hand off, he purposely fed it to the crocodile! He killed many pirates and Indians, which he scalped. He was hard on The Lost Boys and even killed them when he felt it was necessary, like when they started to grow up or just to “thin the herd”, (I kid you not). He never provided for those he kept, except for each tailored ‘tree-hole’ for them to make their escapes.
The whole movie is totally sexist, between there being only the dog, the mom, Wendy, Tinkerbell and the Indian princess, Tiger Lily as females in the entire story. Peter and Tiger Lily have a ‘thing’ for each other, too, but Peter never wants to grow up, so it doesn’t go on his part, but the Princess definitely had feelings for him.
So yes, we need to update by cleaning up Peter’s act, making him more human and putting Wendy in her place, of which Disney did a good job. Disney, though, left a lot of the Lewis-like humor out which often happens when such works are translated to the screen.
The loss of nuances happened with the Narnia series as well as the Hobbit/LOTR movies and many more, like the Harry Potters. (I enjoy all of those movie series to no end, but so much is missing from the books.)
To show the redemption of Mr. Darling, he still needs to start out as self-absorbed and less then involved with his children, but I would certainly not let him be a dog beater/poisoner.
And where do I start with the children’s mother? She knew that her husband was a jerk and let him get away with it, even coddled him. She ignored all of her instincts to stay in and some of the redemption at the end was for her, when she becomes a real, hands-on mother to her children and the few remaining Lost Boys who went back to England with the Darling children. However, she still had few thoughts in her pretty little head. Her only claim was being constantly cheerful and a loving mother.
“Loving mother” is good; being “constantly cheerful” seemed empty-headed.
Barrie obviously thought very little of women in general.
Without losing any of the redemption, I think that Mother and Father Darling could easily be updated to today’s parents. In dealing with my grandkids’ schoolmates, I see how few children have parents who spend a lot of time and attention at home with their kids, well-to-do, middle-class and poor alike.
You could keep Mr. Darling climbing to a high-powered job and give Mrs. Darling one, with her still worrying about that and her social position. You could easily see Nanny as not a dog, but perhaps an immigrant that they treat as less than human with the Darlings’ own sense of entitlement.
The kids could easily fall in with a group of runaways, with a non-murderous but older leader who has no designs on them. This Peter could be a protector, but make the kids learn self-reliance on the streets.
The Indians could be a simply wild, dangerous street gang, with one lovely girl who shares a mutual respect and a flirtation with Peter.
Hook and the pirates could be group of older men bent on exploiting the kids, one way or another, (if even just for cheap labor, to keep it clean).
Tinkerbell could be a troubled street person who thinks that she has magical powers, but comes through with clarity when needed.
I can see this working, and now am frankly surprised that no one has thought of this, what with so many classic works being modernized on stage.
I wish I had the time or wherewithal to pursue this now!
What do you think? Can you see my take on Peter Pan working?