Peter and the Starcatcher! was inspired by Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, a narrative that has inspired 25 fiction books, 22 plays, 16 movies, 11 television shows, 9 comics, 7 video games, and a radio show. (That is according to Wikipedia; I suspect the numbers are higher.) Clearly, the story resonates.
Most of the adaptations and “inspired by” stories romanticize Peter’s story: Ahhhh, to remain a boy forever! But all that romanticizing occludes the fact that Barrie’s original book had more than a whiff of the tragic. In Barrie’s vision, “forever young” means forever being outgrown and left behind by your friends. At the end of Barrie’s Peter and Wendy (the original title), it’s clear that it is Wendy and her brothers who have chosen the better part by going home to mom and dad, and then to marriages and children of their own. All Peter can do is borrow, for a short time ,other people’s children, only to have them outgrow him and go back home.
Yet Peter’s story resonates in our society. I know more than a couple of single, middle-aged men who have never fully grown up, because they haven’t decided, for whatever reason, to take responsibility for others. There are many reasons for this, each of them sympathetic to some degree. Nevertheless, their situation is far from ideal.
As bachelors in their 30s, the world was their oyster. Their friends were struggling with pregnant wives and mortgages and demeaning jobs; meanwhile, they were pursuing their dreams and keeping open their many romantic options. Settle down? Pshaw! The perfect girl and the perfect life is out there somewhere. I just need to hold out.
As the 40s wore on, however, their bachelorhood took on a kind of bravado that belied their growing loneliness, unease, and bitterness — to which they couldn’t admit, even to themselves.
As one of the still-40s said recently: “I have excelled at my goal of staying free of attachments, and what I have to show for it is a bank account, a pickup truck with a Snug top that I can sleep in, and an occasional invitation to visit a friend who has kids that I can enjoy telling jokes to.”