Petersburg, not Patagonia, is the site of an art show focusing on Peter Pan. The Haase Open Door Gallery, 246 N. Sycamore Street, hosts “Second Star to the Right” through September. The show was inspired by Bruce Hanson’s summer release, Peter Pan on Stage and Screen, 1904 – 2010 and features regional artists’ musings and revisionings of the beloved children’s story.
That story has indeed been played and replayed ever since J.M. Barrie first introduced The Little White Bird in 1902. The original character, who flew out of his nursery window one night and waited too long to return home, joined the creatures of the forest. He lived on a mud island in the Thames River and was called a “betwixt and between,” because he was neither fairy nor bird.
As Peter grew and developed, so did the adventure. Porthos, from the original narrative, becomes caretaker rather than companion, and is re-gendered and renamed Nana. A cruel schoolteacher, Pilkington, becomes Hook, and two shipwrecked youngsters serve as the prototype for the “lost boys.” Neverland is also a transposition, developing from that tiny mud island in Covington Gardens, into a make-believe island, Patagonia, with a Robinson Crusoe-like colonial appeal and aspect, into the final full-blown fantasy realm.
Peter Pan is indeed the ultimate British imperial fantasy, and asking what Peter Pan is in the American imagination may bring a moment of reflection. Asking who Peter is in the African American imagination may bring an even greater pause.
Surely both questions bring to mind Michael Jackson’s ranch. Disney’s Peter Pan (1952) and Robin Williams’ Hook (1991) may also still dominate the American imagination, but a lesser known contribution to the Peter Pan canon, Charles Frye’s The Peter Pan Chronicles, explores those very questions.
The 1989 novel, from The University of Virginia Press, explores the underbelly of the Pan mythology, the shadow side, if you will. Set in the United States in the sixties, the story traces the career of black agent-provocateur, Ray Parker, who may or may not have betrayed his best friend, Tommy Rollins.
The short novel depicts an adult world and a political system fostered by a Peter Pan mentality. It tropes–not freedom and fun–but containment, restraint, and oppression within a surveillance society and consciousness. Betrayal and entrapment run rampant. Escape becomes escapism: madness, drug hallucinations and/or institutionalization. One character openly laments that the “Forest sojourn had become the psychohistory of modern man” (91).
Frye’s is one of the most critical and probing books of the Pan legacy. It is not lighthearted fare, but it is worthwhile reading. The gallery offers both carefree and somber interpretations and another chance to commune with the sprite.