The Peter Pan effect

170px-peter_pan_1915_coverThere’s a marvellous piece in the Guardian today, where various children’s authors share their thoughts on whether characters in children’s books should grow up or not.

Every author has a different view point and the vote is split roughly 50-50; you can read the various comments here, and very interesting they are too.

For myself, I mind less now that I’m (allegedly) grown up myself.  Seeing the last bit of the ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ film, for instance, where the main characters are all adults with jobs and kids of their own, didn’t really bother me, although I’m still in two minds whether it added anything to the story arc or not.

However, as a kid, I absolutely loathed anything that smacked of too much change.  Books where the characters I loved grew up or even worse, died, upset me so much that it could be years before I went back to that author again.  Even something as inoffensive as ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was difficult; there I was ensconced firmly in the story, feeling the characters’ emotions, being there in their world with them, and then I turned to the first Appendix, which virtually says ‘oh, don’t bother about them, all that stuff happened centuries ago’.  It pulled me out of the story so fast you couldn’t see the smoke.  And as for C S Lewis’s ‘The Last Battle’, I cried for what seemed like days.

I think as much as anything that books were a means of escape for me, from a fairly unhappy childhood.  I enveloped myself in another world, a better world than my own (at least some of the time), and anything that intruded on that world, or made me realise it was all just a figment of my (and the author’s) imagination, was deeply unsettling.

In the end I guess different people react in different ways, and some kids will enjoy seeing their favourite characters mirror their own development, their own triumphs and problems in the journey from child to adult.  And as one or two of the authors mentioned in the Guardian point out, the idea of being a child for ever (like Peter Pan) can be every bit as difficult in a different way.

So what does everyone think?  Do you, or did you, like your characters to grow up, or go on living in some kind of Neverland where nothing changed?  I’d love to know.



6 thoughts on “The Peter Pan effect

  1. Interesting question, Tess! I honestly can’t say it bothered me to have characters change and grow up. But I know exactly what you mean about wanting to preserve the fictional world that books create. There’s something magical about that, isn’t there?

  2. I’ve never actually thought about this before! I think it depends on the story itself. Sometimes seeing a character grow up makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. I guess that’s a vague answer but I don’t think there’s a straightforward one, at least for me! Great post. 🙂

    • Hi and thanks for commenting! I’m as vague as you, really – and think you’re right that it depends on the context. It would have been hard to write Harry Potter without the ageing as he went through school, for instance. 🙂

  3. I never liked Peter Pan much, and maybe that idea of lack of change is the reason? I have always enjoyed the idea of change, growth, etc. and as an example, I’d take Harry Potter over Peter Pan any day! I like to imagine fictional worlds continuing when I close the book/door but if I go back to a sequel I want the character to have aged and developed at least a little, and if there is no sequel I am satisfied if that happens in my imagination. I always wanted my fantasy worlds to conform to that aspect of our own!

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