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The Neverland: An Excerpt from “Peter Pan”

 By J. M. Barrie

Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for the next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day.

I don’t know whether you have ever seen a map of a child’s mind.  There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card and these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of color here and there and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay,  and one very small old lady with a hooked nose.  It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still.

Of course, the Neverlands vary a good deal.  John’s for instance, had a lagoon with flamingoes flying over it at which John was shooting, while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it.  John lived in a boat turned upside down on the sands, Michael in a wigwam, Wendy in a house of leaves deftly sewn together.  John had no friends, Michael had friends at night, Wendy had a pet wolf forsaken by its parents, but on the whole the Neverlands have a family resemblance, and if they stood still in a row you could say of them that they have each other’s nose, and so forth.  On magic shores children at play are forever beaching their coracles.  We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.

Of all delectable islands, the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed.  When you play at it by day with chairs and tablecloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the tow minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very real.  That is why there are night-lights.

Photo Jeremy Daniel

Occasionally in her travels through her children’s minds, Mrs. Darling found things she could not understand and of these quite the most perplexing was the word Peter.  She knew of no Peter, and yet he was here and there in John and Michael’s minds, while Wendy’s began to be scrawled all over with him.

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