I've come to the irrefutable conclusion that Peter Pan may be the saddest happy character I've ever met.
Take a moment to wrap your brain around that statement. I know it's a contradiction in terms, but it's true nonetheless.
The original Peter Pan, written by J.M. Barrie, was a play turned into a novel that became an instant classic. It told a story about Peter Pan, the boy who would never grow up, who would forever be a kid living a life filled with adventure in a place called Neverland. Complete and total bliss, right? No responsibilities. No bills. No job. Just constant wandering adventure. It's everyone's dream.
But then there comes this moment at the end when Wendy chooses to leave for London and Peter can't bring himself to go with her. He feels the stirrings of an emotion he'll forever be too young to understand, yet he lets Wendy return to London without him. He's forever attached to her, however, and he returns to see her and even takes her daughter back to Neverland with him.
It's sad because Peter Pan will never be able to love. It's forever lost to him because he chooses to remain a Lost Boy in Neverland.
I read Peter Pan a couple years ago and this all hit me hard then. Yesterday I finished Peter and the Starcatchers, which is the unauthorized prequel to Peter Pan written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. In it we meet the orphan Peter who will become Peter Pan. They show us when he first meets Molly (Wendy's future mother) and the rest of the Lost Boys. It was a great read. A kid's book that's just a lot of fun right up to the end.
At the end, Peter had to make a choice. The experiences of the book had changed him so deeply that he realized he could never be happy anywhere other than Neverland. Again it was the heavy realization that Peter could never experience more than those first stirrings of love.
How big a choice is that? To be a worry free kid that never grows up or to be the boy who grows up to experience love. The authors never come right out and say it, but that's funamentally the choice he had to make.
Heavy stuff for a child's tale, don't you think?