The story of Peter Pan, Wendy, John and Michael Darling visiting Never Never Land and fighting off Captain Hook is a children’s classic, but have you ever thought of why Peter Pan is the boy that never grows up? According to an article on the DailyMail.co.uk titled “The Monster of Neverland: how JM Barrie did a ‘Peter Pan and stole another couple’s children”, Barrie created the idea of Peter Pan as a young boy. Barrie’s older brother fractured his skull in an ice skating accident and died just before his 14th >birthday. Barrie’s mother grieved the loss of her elder son and cast Barrie aside.
An article by Robert Gore-Langton in Sunday Express titled “Tragedy that inspired creation of Peter Pan” says that Barrie would dress and act like his older brother in order to get his mother’s attention. “Somewhere deep down he became convinced that leaving childhood was life’s greatest catastrophe. So he invented a story about a boy who stayed a boy forever. He called him Peter Pan,” said Gore-Langton.
Today, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood can be used as a moral story to teach children not to speak to strangers, but theorists say that this story is in fact about cannibalism and that it has been altered to have a happy ending unlike its first telling.
According to News.Discovery.com the woodsman who cuts Red Riding Hood and her grandmother out of the wolf at the end of the story was added in many years later by the Brothers Grimm and Frenchman Charles Perrault, the collector of the Mother Goose tales. There have been over 1 000 different branched versions of Little Red Riding Hood since its original “ancestral story that has its roots in the first century AD”.
Many theories state that in the original story the wolf dissected the grandmother and placed some of her flesh in the pantry and some of her blood in a bottle and tricked Red Riding Hood into eating and drinking it by telling her, “Eat some of the meat in the pantry my dear, and drink some of the wine in the bottle,” and after she did so the wolf ate her. This was apparently filtered out before the story reached the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, and the scene has only survived in a few written texts.
The original German story of Hansel and Gretel told by the Brothers Grimm says that Hansel and Gretel’s father was a woodcutter and that, because the family was very poor, there was not enough food to feed them all, forcing the parents to abandon their children in the forest. Sophie Hileman’s article “Hansel and Gretel – The Fairy School of Fear and Violence” published in The Civilized Reader, which says the Grimm Fairytales are too violent for children and that many parents don’t want their children to be “acquainted with anything so terrible, so horrific that might frighten them”. Hileman says that in Hansel and Gretel there is fear and horror from the beginning but that these stories can, however, teach children that there are struggles we have to face in life.
In Winnie-the-Pooh, even though the story has not been altered, many critics have picked up that the characters all have personality disorders. Winnie the Pooh has an eating disorder because he is constantly eating, seeking or talking about honey, Eeyore suffers from depression as clearly evident in his demeanor, Tigger has ADHD because he has a short attention span and is always active, Piglet suffers from anxiety, Rabbit has OCD, Owl is narcissistic, and Christopher Robin has schizophrenia as he sees all these animals in his head. It can be argued, however, that Christopher Robin is just involved in fantasy play with all his toys and that he is just playing like any child would.
Whether the meaning behind these stories was intended or not, the fairytales we have come to know have been changed since their first telling. Whether you believe the interpretations or not, these stories are still enjoyed by adults and children alike and will be for years to come.
Illustration: Johann van Tonder