J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy (1911) is a novel that was greatly influential to and a reflection of Edwardian English society.  This story includes Barrie’s perpetually young Peter Pan whose invention began with short stories and a play.  The character of Peter shows Barrie’s “extravagant devotion to childhood and his horror of maturity” which at the time “coincided with a period when the British public felt much the same” (Avery 173).  Children were revered as pure and encouraged to stay young as long as possible.  Barrie had his own “obsession with immaturity” (Avery 174), which is evident in Peter’s actions.  He is impulsive and unrestrained.  However, Wendy’s actions do not reflect this theme.  From the very beginning of the novel, Wendy is portrayed as very mature.  The maturity and adult-like behavior in young girls seems to be a theme with Barrie, for “…Barrie’s heroines are romanticized far beyond credibility, but that may well have contributed to his considerable power as a promoter of traditional standards of female behavior” (Shout 360).  So while Peter and the lost boys are wild, Wendy is portrayed seemingly as the responsible one of the group.  Although Barrie depicts Wendy Darling in adult roles such as a wife and mother she is still, in all actuality, still a girl.

Peter and Wendy opens with the Darling family, a middle class family in England.  Wendy Darling is the eldest of three children and “was every inch a woman, though there were not very many inches” (Barrie 26).  She is concerned with cleanliness and propriety, particularly when she first discusses Peter Pan’s existence with her mother.  It has been noted “…the first portion of the novel focuses on the inversion of adult/child relationships…” (Clark 305).  This can be seen in the way Wendy interacts with her father when they are trying to convince her youngest brother Michael to take his medicine.  Wendy sees herself as being helpful when she fetches Mr. Darling’s medicine so he can set an example of how to bravely take it.  When Mr. Darling tries to back out of the deal by feeding it to the dog, Nana, Wendy scolds her father like a mother would do to a son.  Mr. Darling actually pouts at the treatment while Wendy comforts Nana.  This interaction shows Wendy being placed in the role of an adult early on.  We see this also when Mrs. Darling flatters Wendy by borrowing her bracelet when she gets dressed up for a dinner party.  Though Wendy is not attending herself, she invitation is extended to her jewelry and becomes a way for Wendy to feel a part of the adult world.  Still, to Wendy maturity is a game, as she is a proper child and follows the “Edwardian concept of what constituted an ideal child: it had to be imaginative” (Avery 178).

Wendy’s imagination is clearly at work when she and her brother John play-act at being their parents at the time of their births.  John proclaims to Wendy “you are now a mother” and she goes on to take care of Michael like he is her son (Barrie 16).  That is the same way she looks at Peter when she meets him for the first time.  Peter is crying on the floor because he cannot get his shadow to reattach to his body so she sews it on, comforts him, and calls him “my little man” (Barrie 25).  Peter tries to take credit for her work, which angers Wendy.  One author said this of Wendy’s reaction: “Her ensuing retreat back into her bed and refusal to encourage his arrogant attitude depicts Wendy as an unyielding proto-feminist, rather than a submissive future housewife… she views her domestic accomplishments as a sign of both maturity and empowerment, not an indicator of Peter’s male superiority” (Clark 305).  However, Barrie does not keep Wendy in this empowered position for very long.  Peter quickly placates Wendy by saying “in a voice no woman has ever been able to resist” that “one girl is more use than twenty boys” (Barrie 26).  Peter can manipulate her because she doesn’t have true maturity.  For Wendy, maturity is a game.

Wendy is fascinated by Peter and wants to give him a kiss, something that Peter cannot understand because he is a child.  Wendy is imitating the actions of adults and possibly has actual feelings for Peter, as she is a growing and developing girl.  This introduces the concept of adolescence and female competition and jealousy.  Tinker Bell sees Wendy as a threat to her relationship with Peter, and thus begins a Wendy’s first unintentional journey into the adult world.  She is a girl with a crush, wishing that Peter came for her and not just the stories that she can tell (even when she plays at being his wife, he much prefers her to play his mother).  But now she has made a real enemy out of Tinker Bell and though she does nothing to provoke Tinker Bell, she understands her jealousy.  When Peter flatters and entices Wendy into joining him and Tinker Bell on their trip back to Neverland, Wendy, ever the responsible and considerate girl, brought her brothers along, making sure they were safe while under Peter’s distracted guidance.  Tinker Bell takes advantage of their arrival to tell the lost boys to shoot Wendy out of the air.  In Neverland, a fantasy-land of fairies, mermaids, Native Americans, and pirates, a place where children never grow up, “…Peter functions as the central Patriarchal authority figure…” and Tinker Bell enforces his role (Clark, 304).  So the boys take her word as Peter’s actual orders and Tootles nearly kills Wendy.  Tinker Bell is a deadly enemy, and Wendy, still a girl, is unable to contend against the fairy’s anger.

Once they arrived in Neverland, the boys asked Wendy to be their mother, to which she responded, “”Ought I?… Of course it’s frightfully fascinating, but you see I am only a little girl.  I have no real experience” but when Peter says she just needs to be a “nice motherly person” she says, “you see I feel that is exactly what I am” (Barrie 65).  And she takes on the role right away: admonishing them, putting them to bed, and telling them a story.  “Wendy Darling, ten years old or so, can only play at being wife and mother (she delights in doing both, before Peter’s arrival as well as after), but having played these roles she puts them to consistent and effective application” (Shout, 361).  For example, Wendy immediately comforts Tootles when he feels guilty for shooting her.  She is the victim and never met her attacker before, but she still felt it was her job to comfort him.  After the boys build her a house to her exact specifications she begins doing all the cooking, washing, disciplining, comforting, and sewing “when she had a breathing time for herself” (Barrie 69).  She makes herself so busy that she begins to think (more than once) “spinsters are to be envied” (Barrie 69, 90).  As she builds a life in Neverland “She will be dependent on Peter and her boys, like any sanctified Victorian wife/mother, but still be very much the mistress of the Lost Boys’ domicile…” (Shout, 361).  The boys respect and revere Wendy and even her brothers begin to believe that she, though not much older than them, is their actual mother.

One might see it as one author wrote, “I couldn’t bear to be boxed in as Wendy boxes herself, with Peter’s complicity: she sews on pockets and prepares meals in the underground lair, spending her Neverland time playing Edwardian household rather than having adventures” (Jenkins).  But for Wendy, pretending to be a mother is her adventure.  Because she doesn’t have the experience of real motherhood, Wendy improvises and makes mistakes.  It is the mistakes she makes that further the plot in Peter and Wendy.  When the boys are swimming near Marooner’s Rock one day, Wendy orders them to take a half-hour nap after their make-believe lunch.  She makes the mistake of a “young mother” when she decides not to wake them when she hears pirates approaching because she thought she must always stick to the half-hour rule, though none of them had actually eaten (Barrie 75).  Because of her inexperience, Wendy puts them all in danger, but she also inadvertently adds excitement to the story.  This happens again when Captain Hook finally captures the children.  She is described as “only a little girl” when she is fascinated by Hook and the narrator wishes that she had reacted differently which would have prevented the children from being tied up (Barrie 108).  However, if she had not reacted in the way she did, the story would have lost its dramatic appeal, so one can believe that the narrator’s wish is disingenuous.  These scenes are the only scenes where Wendy displays any real fear and vulnerability and Wendy finds herself “long[ing] to hear male voices,” a symbol of security for her (Barrie 75).  Wendy can convincingly mimic a wife or mother, but she still makes the mistakes of a novice.  This only changes when she becomes a real mother.

When the Darling children and the lost boys return to England they begin to grow up and the memories of the Peter and Neverland begin to fade away.  Wendy does return to Neverland to do spring cleaning for Peter.  But soon she is ineligible to return and becomes an adult, playing to roles of wife and mother for real this time.  When Peter returns again he is saddened to see that she has grown up, “He sat down on the floor and sobbed, and Wendy did not know how to comfort him, though she could have done it so easily once. She was only a woman now…” (Barrie 151).  Wendy was once able to play a mother to Peter, but once she became an actual mother, she is unable to satisfy Peter’s expectations for a make-believe mother.  Wendy’s daughter Jane now takes on the role.  Jane is only a girl, and that, along with being “nice and motherly” is exactly what is needed to be a mother in Neverland.

Wendy Darling is seen as a mature child from the very beginning of the novel.  Her journey to Neverland requires her to take on the adult role of mother, and sometimes wife, but she was still a girl.  She played the role for fun, continuing her nursery games in her new surroundings with nine sons instead of just Michael.  She tries to be a wife to Peter but only attracts Tinker Bell’s jealousy.  It is in times of danger when one is reminded of her status as a girl.  She may have played a mother convincingly, but she only is an adult after all her games and adventures are over.

Works Cited

Avery, G. (1986). The cult of Peter Pan. Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry, 2(2), 173-185.

Barrie, J M, Jack Zipes, J M. Barrie, and J M. Barrie. Peter Pan. New York: Penguin Books, 2004. Print.

Clark, Emily. “The Female Figure in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: The Small and the Mighty.” J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in and out of Time: a Children’s Classic at 100. By Donna R. White and C. Anita Tarr. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006. 303-19. Print.

Jenkins, Emily. “Peter Pan. I Am He. I Am Not.” The Horn Book Magazine, 83.5 (2007): 502.

Shout, John. “From Nora Helmer to Wendy Darling: If You Believe in Heroines, Clap Your Hands.” Modern Drama V. 35 (September 1992) P. 353-64, 35 (1992): 353-364.


Wendy: Barrie’s Representation of Womanhood

            Everyone who knows the story of Peter Pan, the Darling children, and the lost boys thinks of Neverland as the place one goes to never grow up.  But that is only the case for boys; in J. M. Barrie’s world, girls are born women.  From the beginning of the story Wendy is portrayed as a very mature child.  Though Wendy is in the same age group as Peter, her brothers John and Michael, and the lost boys, she is placed in the roles of an adult woman, a wife, and a mother and seldom as a girl.

J. M. Barrie’s invention of the perpetually young Peter Pan began with short stories and a play and culminated in the publishing of Peter and Wendy in 1911.  The character of Peter shows Barrie’s “extravagant devotion to childhood and his horror of maturity” which at the time “coincided with a period when the British public felt much the same.” (Avery 173)  Children were revered as pure and encouraged to stay young as long as possible.  Barrie had his own “obsession with immaturity” (Avery 174), which is evident in Peter’s actions.  He is impulsive and unrestrained.  However, Wendy’s actions do not reflect this theme.  From the very beginning of the novel, Wendy is portrayed as very mature.  As the narrator says, “Wendy was every inch a woman, though there were not very many inches” (Barrie 26) and she “always liked to do the right thing.” (Barrie 27).  We can see this at several points in the novel: Wendy loves to fantasize about being a woman and is flattered when her mother borrows her bracelet when she goes out (Barrie 16).  That night, Peter, a boy she had only met in her dreamland, enters her room through the window but Wendy is “not alarmed” but rather “pleasantly interested” (Barrie 24).  Her reaction shows a level of maturity not normally found in children.  She is open to things she does not understand and is not scared by the unknown.

From the beginning of the story, Barrie makes clear that Wendy has a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong, as well as knowledge of customs and expectations.  When discussing Peter with her mother she “admits with regret” that he is “very cocky” (Barrie 10).  This shows that in her few years of life she already knows that his arrogant and cocky attitude is unacceptable and is embarrassed of the way he behaves.  Also, just as Mrs. Darling “loved to have everything just so” (Barrie 7), Wendy is called “a tidy child” (Barrie 11).  She finds it “naughty” that Peter tracked leaves into the house through the window (Barrie 11).  This fastidiousness is seen multiple times in the novel, especially when she takes on the role of mother in Neverland.

When Wendy and Peter officially meet for the first time, Wendy practices the customs she has observed from her parents and introduces herself using her full name and goes on to ask where he lived and about his mother.  (Barrie 24-25) Barrie seems to use Wendy’s behavior to conform to a stereotype of gender roles.  When Wendy reattaches Peter’s shadow to her “little man” (25) she, ever the tidy woman, wants to iron it out but Peter was “boylike, indifferent to appearances” and did not want to be bothered with it. (26) When Peter tries to take credit for her work, Wendy become indignant but Peter is able to placate her “in a voice that no woman has ever yet been able to resist” by assuring her that “one girl is more use than twenty boys” (26).  This interplay reinforces the belief that women are easily swayed by sweet talk and flattery.  Barrie is modeling Wendy’s actions after her adult counterparts even though she is still a child.

J. M. Barrie never states what age Wendy is, all we know is that she is young enough to return to Neverland three years later.  That being said, Wendy shows that along with having a mature personality, she is also at an age where she is attracted to Peter.  This may be a legitimate attraction or another example of her following customs, but regardless it makes itself known through her actions.  The night Wendy met Peter she wishes to give him a kiss, a concept he, a perpetual boy, is unfamiliar with (Barrie 26).  Tinkerbell, however, understands quite well and this starts the clichéd jealous competition between females for Peter’s unknown affections.  Wendy wishes that Peter had come only for her and not for the stories she can tell him (Barrie 30).  Peter and Wendy quickly become inseparable, to the point that Peter personally stands guard at Wendy’s house while she recuperates from being shot upon her arrival in Neverland (Barrie 65).  As the Darling children fall into a routine with Peter and the lost boys, Wendy took on the role of the loyal housewife and repeated the rule of “Father knows best” even when she sympathized with the boys (Barrie 88).  This submission to Peter is seen again when Wendy makes a pirate suit for Peter after he defeats Hook.  She was afraid that with the new suit would come a more violent and pirate-like Peter, but she still went ahead and made the outfit for him (Barrie 134-135).  Barrie also includes a lengthy section where Wendy and Peter make-believe that they are mother and father to the lost boys.  Wendy tells the boys to meet their father at the door and they try to convince him and Wendy to dance with them.  They continue comparing the boys’ features with their own, much like actual parents do. (Barrie 91-92) However, immediately following this conversation Wendy asks Peter to define his feelings for her, which he defines as “those of a devoted son” (Barrie 92).  This brings us to the third role Wendy plays, that of a mother.

Wendy’s role as a mother is her most famous role.  Peter Pan asked Wendy to go to Neverland with him to tell the boys stories and act as their mother but she had already had some “practice” at being a mother.  John and Wendy would pretend to be Mr. and Mrs. Darling, reenacting the addition of each child into the family.  This game forced Wendy to resolve conflicts between her brothers, much like a mother would do (Barrie 16).  During their trip to Neverland Wendy continues to act as a guardian for her brothers by keeping track of them and voicing Michael’s concerns about supper (Barrie 41).  Upon their arrival, she is quick to bond with the lost boys.  Tootles follows Tinkerbell’s instructions to shoot Wendy with an arrow and nearly kills her, but like a mother, Wendy forgives him even though she doesn’t know him yet! (Barrie 59) The boys take to her right away, calling themselves her servants (they consistently honor her because she is a girl) and building a house for her to her specifications using both real and imaginary things.  (Barrie 61-65) Shortly after building her house, they ask her to be their mother to which she responds, “Of course its frightfully fascinating, but you see I am only a little girl.  I have no real experience.”  But when Peter says she just needs to be a “nice motherly person” she says, “you see I feel that is exactly what I am” and takes on the role immediately, admonishing them, putting them to bed, and telling them a story (Barrie 65).

As a mother of nine boys, Wendy has the responsibility of doing the washing, cooking, putting the boys to bed by seven o’clock, monitoring their behavior, comforting them (especially Peter) and sewing “when she has breathing time for herself” (69).  She even saves their lives by keeping them from eating a poisoned cake left by Captain Hook and his men.  Wendy is so consumed by her duties that when captured by the pirates her top complaint is that “the ship had not been tidied in years” (120).  With all these responsibilities to her children, Wendy twice states that “spinsters are to be envied” (69, 90).

Despite all this work, Wendy loves playing mother to her pseudo-children.  She thinks that every mother needs a baby, so she makes Michael, the youngest, play that role by putting him in a cradle.  He protested, but as Barrie’s narrator says, “you know what women are” so he had to suffer through it (68).  Although she loves her sons, Wendy wants the boys to remember their real parents, especially John and Michael, so she quizzes them on random information about their parents.  When captured by the pirates, she encourages the boys to use her as an excuse not to switch sides since “mothers alone are always willing to be the buffer” (119).  But when the pirates threaten to make the boys walk the plank, she acknowledges the boys’ real mothers’ wish for them to “die like English gentlemen” (121).  Wendy shows her love for the lost boys by knowing when to assume the role of mother and when to remind them of their real mothers at home.

Though she acts mature and takes on the roles of wife and mother, Wendy Darling is still a girl.  Barrie gave her an active imagination, the “Edwardian concept of what constituted the ideal child” (Avery 178).  Wendy’s youth is used as a plot device of sorts.  When the children are attacked by pirates on Marooner’s Rock, it is because Wendy made the mistake of a “young mother” and didn’t wake them from their afternoon nap despite hearing danger approaching (75).  Wendy’s youth is again mentioned when she meets and is fascinated by Captain Hook.  She is described as “only a little girl” and the narrator wishes that she had reacted differently to Hook which would have prevented the children from being tied up (108).  However, if she had not reacted in the way she did, the story would have lost its dramatic appeal, so one can believe that the narrator’s wish is disingenuous.  These scenes are the only scenes where Wendy displays any real fear and vulnerability and Wendy finds herself “long[ing] to hear male voices,” a symbol of security for her (75).  Through all these adventures, Wendy knows that she needs her own mother, even though she is now a mother herself.  She leaves her adult life in Neverland to head back to England and return to her life as a child.
Of course, eventually Wendy Darling has to grow into actual adulthood but “she was one of the kind that likes to grow up. In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than other girls” (146).  However, in the end, growing up in the real world made her lose her ability to be a mother to Peter.  When he returned to bring her to Neverland a realized she had grown, “He sat down on the floor and sobbed, and Wendy did not know how to comfort him, though she could have done it so easily once. She was only a woman now…” (151).  Barrie is now diminishing the ability of adults because as children are seen to be incapable in the real world, adults cannot function within the rules of Neverland.  Wendy goes from being a child with adult abilities and maturity to being an adult who cannot connect with youth.  Barrie sends Wendy to Neverland to act as an adult and now that she is an adult, she is ill-equipped.  These adult responsibilities now fall to Jane, her daughter.

I.      Introduction

A.     “Fantasy, more than any other genre, is a literature of empowerment.” TP

B.     Portals of Power focuses on books that “depict magic being either performed by of provided to (via a magical helper) an entity typically lacking, or

perceiving an absence of control and knowledge in real-world terms.” LC

C.     Thesis: In children’s fantasy literature, a portal story requires a disempowered protagonist for the sake of both the story and the reader.

II.    Disempowered Children (Victorian/Edwardian)

A.     How they are before entering the portal

1.     Idealizing children (esp Edwardian [cult of peter pan])

2.     “In fantasy, those normally perceived as unimportant are vital players.” TP

B.     Their experience

C.     The result and impact (a place to belong)

III.  Disempowered females (Victorian/Edwardian)

A.     How they are before entering the portal

1.     “…Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar place the literary Victorian woman in a state of societal limbo: ‘Precisely because a woman is denied the

autonomy… that the pen represents, she is not only excluded form culture… but she also becomes herself and embodiment of just those

extremes of mysterious and intransigent Otherness which culture confronts with worship or fear, love or loathing’.” LC

B.     Their experience

C.     The result and impact (a place to belong)

IV. The impact on the reader

A.     Child readers

1.     Theme of finding a place to belong (especially those who are suffering; escapism)

2.     Irony of children’s lit (especially since talking about the value of being a child) can help children grow up

i.     Help them cope with trauma they may not understand; Good vs Evil (9/11 and Harry Potter) CR

ii.     “Intelligent readers will come to relate the questions raised in these books to their own lives.  If a question nags at youngsters intensely

enough, they will grow up to devise an answer—to move their world forward…” TP

3.     Journey of self-discovery, morals, friendship CR

B.     Adult readers

1.     Fantasy literature is a “cross-over” genre

2.     “Fantasy creates hope and optimism in readers.” TP

3.     “…valuable for understanding social marginalization, and may be therapeutic in their own right.” LC

V.   Conclusion

A.     Summarize Characters

B.     Summarize Readers

C.     Restate Thesis

My group took on the challenge of presenting a comparison of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and MGM Studio’s film The Wizard of Oz. There are enough differences between the two works to discuss for hours so we decided that we needed to come from one direction and resent a clear thesis. The thesis we decided on was rooted in the excerpt of Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn that we read for class. She makes the point that Dorothy has a “highly individualistic morality” and that her “journeys do not result in her own moral growth” which is in contrast to her portrayal in the 1939 adaptation. Our goal was to support Mendlesohn’s assertion with our own observations.

We split up our work with my portion focusing on the differences between the film and book at the introduction and conclusion. These parts are crucial in how the film is shaped and portray the goal of the creators. With the introduction I focused on the film’s extension of the story by adding significant back-story to Dorothy’s life in Kansas. In the text we have a brief introduction setting up Kansas as a boring, colorless contrast to the Land of Oz. However, in the film we have foreshadowing of the characters we will meet in Oz as well as Aunt Em’s directive to “find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble,” spurring Dorothy’s desire to get away.

As we all noted, the end was very different; nearly the entire second half of the book is omitted. I explained how the end of the book sends Dorothy off with new friends who have benefited from her quest to Oz, but with no lesson learned for herself. However, in the film there is a conversation between Dorothy and Glinda which spelled out her lesson: “if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.” The adaptation has its own constructed moral that is in direct contrast with Mendlesohn’s evaluation of the text.

As a group we worked really well together to construct our argument and were in agreement on the direction we would take. We stayed in contact with each other and divided work in a way that satisfied all of us. I really enjoyed working with Robin, Olivia and Jenn.

While both Svankmajer’s and Disney’s adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are generally close to the text, they couldn’t be much more different from each other.  Carroll’s story is a fantasy with both nightmarish and comedic qualities, and each film emphasized one over the other.  This emphasis causes the films, though alike in structure, to read very differently.

Svankmajer’s Alice (1988) is filmed through stop-animation, which often lends itself to a “creepy” style of filmmaking.  (In fact, when I went to the library to view their copy, the student working there asked me if it was a horror film because even the case gave him an eerie feeling.)  The jerky motions of stop-animation combined with the lack of actual dialogue keeps the focus on the characters’ actions rather than the clever witticisms that Carroll wrote.  Removing the dialogue, the source of most of the comedy, automatically changes how the viewer will receive this film.  Svankmajer also uses repetition in the characters’ actions, especially in scenes like the Mad Tea Party.  Other scenes have milder use of repetition, including the opening scene where Alice is throwing rocks in the stream.  This use of repetition creates a sense of anticipation and unease with the viewer, making them curious as to what will come next and are more easily surprised about any new occurrence on screen.  Another aspect of Alice that evokes a nightmarish quality is the amount of violence.  While the Queen of Hearts and the Duchess are easily labeled the most violent characters in Carroll’s novel, there is violence spread throughout the film.  From the beginning to the end Alice is thrown around the room as she tries to follow the rabbit to his next destination.  In some sense, the Rabbit is actually the most violent character in this adaptation.  He replaces the Duchess and the cook in the scene of the Duchess’s house, so he both throws dishes and “takes care of” the baby.  He is appointed executioner (which is never his job in the book) and beheads offenders with a pair of scissors.  However, in Carroll’s work the Queen’s violent outbursts become comical because nothing ever comes of them; no one is ever actually beheaded.  Svankmajer also makes his own creative additions to the story that emphasize the nightmarish quality.  In the scene after Alice is stuck in the Rabbit’s house she is chased by chickens and skeleton-animals into a room where food becomes animated and have nails growing out of them before her eyes.  This is a scene that really only serves the purpose of scaring the viewer and putting them on edge.  Soon after, Alice encounters the caterpillar, but first must pass dozens of caterpillars made of socks burrowing through the floor and trying to recruit Alice’s socks.  All in all, Svankmajer does everything he needs to turn this portal fantasy into an eerie dream.

The Disney version, Alice in Wonderland (1951), on the other hand, takes more traditional, comedic fantasy approach.  The animation is lively and full of bright colors to differentiate it from the waking world.  This version also includes much of the dialogue from Carroll’s text, including sections and characters from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There and in the process, retains the comedic and upbeat mood required for every animated Disney film. Much of the poetry is included though sometimes modified, like in the case of “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”  This poem becomes a sort of animated short in the middle of Alice’s travels, with a new ending to increase the comedic factor.  Including the poetry makes it easier to add music, an integral part of many Disney films.  Having the soundtrack engages the audience on an aural level to complement the visual stimulation.  In comparison, Svankmajer had no music to ease the viewer like Disney did.  There were some additions in this adaptation too, particularly the Tulgey Wood scene, which introduces the concept that this dream make actually be a nightmare.  The animals in the wood are strange, but still amusing.  This is quickly balanced by a return to the bright Wonderland that the viewer has become accustomed to.  Disney’s adaptation is by far the most well known and approaches the text much like one would expect; there is a fantasy quality that is highly amusing and emphasizes the comedic over the nightmarish.

Double Indemnity is the 1943 novel written by James M. Cain (published serially in Liberty magazine in 1936) that was adapted into a film of the same title in 1944.  The screenwriters for the film version are Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder, who was also the director.  In adaptations, in this instance from literature to film, changes are always made and are made for various reasons.  One reason will always be the necessity of change when going from one medium to another.  Another reason for changes would be to accomplish a specific goal, the reason why one ventures into making an adaptation.  In A Theory of Adaptation, Linda Hutcheon gives four possible reasons why someone would make an adaptation.  In the case of Double Indemnity I believe there were a couple reasons: the “economic lures” of cinema and personal motives in being able to shape a contemporary’s work.

Money is a self-explanatory motivator and the changes made in this adaptation make the work more palatable to the potential viewers.  Raymond Chandler, one of the screenwriters, is well known for his “hard-boiled” detective novels and had a clear impact on the work.  The story follows the film noir theme in a more obvious way once Chandler is done with it.  The main change to this movie is with the character Phyllis.  Cain’s version of this character is a sociopath, but Chandler softens her to fit the mold of the “femme fatale” of the film noir genre.

The general story of Double Indemnity is of a woman, Phyllis, who seduces an insurance salesman named Walter Neff (called Huff in the novel) into committing insurance fraud.  She convinces her husband to get a life insurance policy and plans to cash in by killing the husband and staging it as an accident, which would give her a double payment.  Much of the plot remains the same; even the first-person narration is captured through having Walter record his story through a Dictaphone. But most of the changes come at the end and through Phyllis’s character.

In the novel, Phyllis is psychotic; she imagines herself as the bride of Death, shrewdly committing murder several times, including the death of children and the first wife of her husband.  In the film version, however focus is taken away from all the murders except her husband’s, which the plot revolves around.  This is to give Phyllis less of the appearance of a hard and calculating murderer, and more of a woman who got caught up in a bad situation, like other femme fatales.  Without the insanity of her character, Phyllis is more accessible to the audience, regardless of the fact that she is committing a crime.

One scene in the film that portrays this change is the conclusion of her relationship with Walter.  In Cain’s text, she and Walter commit suicide together off the edge of a ship after being discovered by Keyes.  Even in her death Phyllis brings another down with her.  In a way, she is the cause of all the deaths in the novel.  But in the film, Wilder and Chandler change this scene drastically to keep Phyllis from being such a strong antagonist.  The adaptation ends with a confrontation between Phyllis and Walter at her house.  She shoots Walter though it does not kill him, and he then dares her to follow through and kill him.  She claims that she loves him, but that she did not realize it until she fired the first shot and that she now regrets it.  However, Walter refuses to let her off that easy and shoots her twice, killing her in her own home, the place where they met and planned her husband’s murder.  Having Phyllis die by her lover’s hand creates a last-minute redemption for her.  These edits feminize her character and turn her away from the gothic murderer persona she has in the novel in favor of the traditional femme fatale who causes trouble but is almost forgivable.

All in all, Wilder and Chandler’s Double Indemnity is an intermediate adaptation.  Much of the story remains the same, but it cannot replace the original because the changes are significant enough to change the experience and interpretation of the work.  Some changes are smaller, but still have a purpose.  People have said that the change of Phyllis’s husband’s last name from Nirdlinger to Dietrichson was to create a change between a passive-sounding name to a more aggressive name, in hopes that if her husband seems more unreasonable, she would become an even more sympathetic character.  Regardless of whether or not it is true, the changes, which seem to come from Chandler’s involvement, primarily change Phyllis’s character and reduce her from a murdering sociopath to a femme fatale trying to get rich quick.

“Counting the Ways to Hate ’10 Things'”


In this article Mick LaSalle reviews the teen movie, “10 Things I Hate About You.”  This film is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” The main point of this review is that “10 Things” does not reach the same extreme that Shakespeare did.  He accuses the filmmakers of “blanding down” the purpose of the story in this adaptation.  In his opinion they should have “told the story as Shakespeare told it,” complete with the males smacking the females.  He is aware of how offensive this could be, but accepts this as part of the risk involved in making art.  I feel this would not be marketable, particularly since the target audience is teenagers, specifically female teens.  The amount of abuse that was acceptable in Shakespeare’s time is much different than the current norms, and violating this taboo would not be appreciated in a teen romantic comedy.  The target audience is likely not versed in Shakespeare’s work and will view it as something completely new; they would not appreciate the film as an adaptation because of their lack of knowledge of the source text.  Rather, this film was meant to be a “battle of the sexes” where the males’ actions were counteracted by the fun, late ’90s version of feminism.

He gives a second option of the story remaining the same as Shakespeare’s with the sexes reversed.  This is a plausible option when it comes to the interaction between the sexes.  As he states, “No one minds girls smacking boys upside the head, and it might have been fun.”  However, the basis of the film, the father’s reluctance to let his younger daughter date, is less compatible with the typical relationship between fathers and sons.  It is generally acceptable for boys to seek girlfriends no matter the age, though it is still a persistent concern for fathers to permit their daughters to be in a relationship.  In a way, sexism and paternalism make both his suggestions impossible.

As a viewer of this movie, before and after becoming familiar with the source text, I find this film perfectly enjoyable though not necessarily award-winning.  To me, the filmmakers were absolutely correct in taking the middle road instead of following the text too closely.  There are medium-specific changes in all adaptations, but in this one there is also the necessity to make the adaptation accessible and relevant to the non-reader.  Using a modern setting while keeping all other elements from Shakespeare is hard to do (though it was done in 1997’s Romeo+Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) without excluding the uninitiated.  All in all, I find this adaptation successful because it is inspired by, but not constrained by its source.

here we go.

May 2018
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