Monday, February 7, 2011

Peter Pan

Peter Pan
By J.M. Barrie

I've been in the Philippines not using a computer for the past three weeks so I've got a little catching up to do with my reading blog.

Everyone always says that the book is better than the movie and if you play the percentage game "everyone" is right most of the time, but not always. There are more than just a handful of movies that lay the book to waste. Case in point: Peter Pan. But before I get to that, let's look at a few other examples:

Lord of the Rings

I know I will take the ire of a billion hobbit-heads out there but Peter Jackson's three films are infinitely more watchable than J.R.R. Tolkien's books are readable. Lord of the Rings is one of only two books I have never finished (the other being Wuthering Heights, but that's another story). Reading Tolkien is the literary equivalent of flying from New York to Hong Kong economy class without in-flight entertainment. Jackson was able to pare down Gandalf and Frodo's 30 page soliloquies about duty and honor into three fairly exciting movies.

Heart of Darkness

I know that Apocalypse Now is not a literal interpretation of the novel, but it's close enough to merit mention. While Apocalypse Now is an infinitely rewatchable classic with at least three career-defining performances (possibly more), Heart of Darkness is a wooden post-Victorian snooze-fest. Brando's Kurtz was so much more fascinating than Conrad's version. It's hard to even think about the book and the film in the same instance.


I admit, I'm not a big fan of Irving Welsh. His brand of shock literature appealed to to a younger me (I went through a phase) but it quickly lost appeal once I realized that he was trying so very hard to shock his readers by writing what people assumed you could not write about. I can only assume he'd never heard of Charles Bukowski. Trainspotting is simply 300 pages of terrible people who do terrible things to each other for a while then one of them does something extraordinarily terrible... the end. At some point in a novel the reader needs to have an emotional attachment to at least one character (whether it's good or bad). I didn't have either for any character. If you've seen the movie but not read the book, imagine a book filled with characters as unlikeable as Francis Begbie.

On the other hand, Trainspotting the movie softened the characters just enough to make than at least partly human (well, except Begbie... he alone remains as terrible in the movie as he is in the book. At least one charater had to). It's that humanity that made the movie. In the book one cannot understand how these people came to be friends in the first place. In the movie there is an undercurrent of a past before the drugs and crime . An idea that these guys are bound by filial and familial ties within the community. It's odd that a movie addresses this when a book was unable.

Peter Pan

I can't really put my finger on what, exactly, put me off this book. Perhaps it was the characterization of Peter (who has much more sinister undertones in the book). Peter is characterized as all that is good about childhood (imagination and a sense of the carefree) but more often than not, he represents all that is bad about childhood (a skewed sense of justice and morality, irresponsibility etc...). Since this is ostensibly a children's book I figured that the moral of the story would laud the qualities of childhood over those of adulthood... but I was sorely mistaken.

When I finished I got the feeling that J.M. Barrie was writing a story for kids in which he is preparing them for the cold, callous world of adults and that the carefree days of childhood should be packed away like so much junk never to be revisited again.

Or not. I dunno. I just liked the Disney movie better, which is odd because I usually detest Disney movies.


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