Tag Archives: Daniel O’Connor

Legends of Mermaids: Sexual Temptresses in *The Story of Peter Pan*

The Story of Peter Pan (cover)
© 2011, Alicia Chirrey, Mamta Patel
O’Connor, Daniel. The Story of Peter Pan. Illustrated by Alice Woodward. London: G Bell, 1923. Print.

Introduction – By: Alicia Chirrey

Mermaids have been an iconic symbol in folklore ever since their origination in 1000 BC Greece. The representation of this fictitious creature in literature and pop culture has evolved in meaning and appearance. This evolution is based on their early legends and myths of being sexual symbols. Daniel O’Connor’s 1923 version of The Story of Peter Pan, found in the Children’s Literature Archive,utilizes mermaids in a very interesting way. O’Connor uses a combination of mythological representation and symbolic physical features in order to portray their meaning to Never-Never-Never Land. Alice Woodward, a famous British illustrator of books, is best known for her illustrations in The Story of Peter Pan. These works are considered to be very early in her career. In this exhibit, we identify mermaids as illusory creatures that use their sexuality to lure humans into dangerous situations. Alicia Chirrey examines why mermaids are sexualized as temptresses in The Story of Peter Pan and Mamta Patel analyzes the evolution of sexuality in mermaids, demonstrated in featured legends.

The Representation of Mermaids in The Story of Peter Pan – By: Alicia Chirrey

The Meaning of Mermaids to Neverland
The Story of Peter Pan is a narrative about an adventure to a place called Never-Never-Never Land (abbreviated to Never Land in this Exhibit). This is a magical land that represents the unconscious fantasy that lies within the children’s reality. Never Land comforts the crisis of having to eventually accept the responsibilities of adulthood. Time and space do not exist there. The children who live in Never Land are able to live forever in their state of childhood. The transition from childhood into adulthood has key turning points. As Peter Hollindale expresses in A Hundred Years of Peter Pan, one of these important developments that help acknowledge the transformation is the passage into active sexuality (Hollindale 212). Through written description and illustration, Daniel O’Connor and Alice B. Woodward sexualize mermaids as temptresses in The Story of Peter Pan. This portrayal supports the theme of the eternal child by hindering the sexual maturity of the children in Never Land.
About the Illustrator

Alice Woodward is recognized as a well-established, inventive and talented illustrator of books, as Geoffrey Beare describes. Woodward’s illustrations can be found in a variety of books for a vast range of ages. Her work however, has been considered most appropriate for adults, as her usual style has been identified as detailed and macabre. Her work is therefore, very human-like. She is also known for her ability to economically illustrate (Beare 2006). Perhaps these reasons provide explanation for why O’Connor selected Woodward as the illustrator to visually capture the essence of his appropriated story in just 19 images.

Visual and Textual Symbolism

Daniel O’Connor describes the mermaids of Never Land as beautiful, charming, carefree creatures. They spend all day in their Lagoon combing their hair, singing and swimming. From the very beginning, even before the children fly to Never Land, the discussion of mermaids arises. Peter Pan uses the idea of them to tempt Wendy and ultimately, convince her into venturing off to the mystical land.

The way Woodward draws the mermaid carefully encompasses sexual allure while maintaining a degree of appropriateness. The Story of Peter Pan only allocates two images in the book to mermaids.  The very first image of the mermaid is seen below:

As O’Connor describes, the boys are immediately drawn to the beauty of the mermaid and her charming melody. The mermaid’s long glorious hair is the only thing takes the focus off of her half naked body. This meticulous collectivity contributes to the theme of enticing mystery. The mermaid is a creature the children have never seen before. From the children’s perspective, they can only see the portion of the mermaid the familiar, human half of the mermaid that is above water. The foreign, amphibious portion is mostly immersed in the dark depths of the water.

This unfamiliar creature lures the natural curiosity of the children. The tempting hidden half of the mermaid is what the children lust to see and interact with. The mystery of the unexplored is exemplified by the physical sexuality of the mermaid. The boys even try to catch one as Wendy carefully observes. The action of trying to catch the mermaid for their own objectifies the mermaid, making her less than human. Capturing her would fulfill their sensual desires.

When the mermaid sees the children approaching, she is offended by them and cries out the word: mortals. This outcry of fear and displeasure suggests that mermaids and humans are not allies in this story. In the second picture “She slipped out of his grasp” the children’s hands are only inches away from the mermaid tail as she dives into the water.

O’Connor compares the mermaid’s escape from the boys to be eel-like. This slithery animalistic comparison indicates that the mermaids are like snakes of the sea. The mermaid does not allow the children to fulfill their desires of interacting and acquainting themselves with the mermaid, thus through her escape, keep the children in Never Land.

According to most religions, water represents the unconscious and rebirth (Hallman 67). It holds a great amount of mystery through depth and potentiality, therefore, undiscovered knowledge. In this case, through the use of sexuality, undiscovered knowledge is synonymous with adulthood. In each picture, the mermaid symbolizes the tempting passageway from a world that the children understand to a place that holds mystery of experience. The mermaid is sexualized in order to tempt the children to follow her into the water. Instead, the children hold tightly onto the stable rock. They do not dare follow her for fear of the unknown.

The Historical Context of Mermaids – By: Mamta Patel

Mermaids are mysterious creatures that have been around for many centuries. Most of their myths have derived from Europe. Many of the mermaid’s myths originate from what sailors claim to see. Many Greeks, medieval sailors, and also Christopher Columbus have claimed to have seen mermaids (Ramano et al. 253). Throughout history, mermaids have been portrayed holding a mirror admiring their beauty and combing their hair, this is the exact way they are depicted in The Story of Peter Pan as well. Mermaid’s upper body is made up of a woman and the lower body is fish, however legends describe that they did not always consist of women parts. All legends depict mermaids as singing creatures that lure sailors and then enchant them to death.  In historical literature, mermaids are usually portrayed sitting on rocks holding a mirror and combing their long blonde hair. This depiction of mermaids has remained the same in literature; they are also depicted sitting on a rock looking into a mirror in The Story of Peter Pan.   

The first legends of mermaids were told by the Greeks in 1000 BC. The first mermaid tale was about a mermaid named Atargatis who was the goddess of love and beauty. She fell in love with a mortal shepherd who she accidentally killed.  She was consumed by guilt for losing her loved one that in shame she wanted to punish herself by jumping into the deep waters and turning into a fish. However, her transformation was incomplete because her beauty was so divine. Instead Atargatis formed into a mermaid she was half woman from the upper body and fish from waist below (Adams 56).

The Greeks believed that mermaids were sirens. Sirens are hybrid legendary creatures that had a women’s head, a feathery bird body and large scaly feet. Overtime, the sirens were represented as half woman and half fish. Although the body composition of the sirens changed, they always lured sailors with their charming voices.  Sirens used their voices to seduce the sailors, they acted as seductresses and caused the sailors to walk off of their ships and drown.  As you can see, sirens and mermaids have many similarities; therefore they are used interchangeably (Ramano et al. 254).

Another legend suggests that the idea of mermaids derived from manatees, which are sea cows. Manatees are linked to folklore with mermaids. Initially mermaids were made of monkey’s body attached to shark tale (Kokai 68). Originally, they were hideous creatures, contrasting how their beautiful and charming features as depicted in literature.  It is believed that in 1493, Christopher Columbus misunderstood manatees for mermaids.  He announced that mermaids were not half as beautiful as they are painted. This leads us to the myth about mermaids that they are elegant and charming creatures (Ramano et al. 253). Overtime, the physical appearance of the mermaid has changed drastically.

All legends reveal the myth about mermaids being beautiful in cartoons and in fairy tales, along with The Story of Peter Pan. Mermaids are portrayed as beautiful because they are exposed to children through the use of fairy tales. The representations of mermaids are portrayed as role models for young girls, thus, the image of mermaids must be appealing. In reality, all legends about mermaids depict their appearances in various ways, but none are depicted as beautiful. Legends suggest that mermaids originated from “sea cows”, also called manatees. These are giant whale-like creatures. For many centuries, sailors have also mistaken manatees for mermaids. Christopher Columbus, who was the first expeditionary, saw manatees and proclaimed that mermaids are not half as beautiful as they have been painted.

Conclusion – By: Mamta Patel

Daniel O’Connor utilizes the imagery of mermaids by Alice Woodward to represent them as temptresses in Never Land. The mermaids are initially introduced as mysterious creatures that the children of Never Land are curious to know about, however their representations are shown to be alluring for all ages. They are displayed as extremely beautiful, charming, and attractive creatures in The Story of Peter Pan.  Focusing on the origin of mermaids, various works have revealed that mermaids have evolved from legendary creatures called ‘sirens’ that had a woman’s head, a feathery bird body, and large scaly feet. Various other sources reveal that mermaids have evolved from whale-like creatures known as “sea cows”, which were generally seen to be unpleasant in appearance. Their appearances had been mistaken, leading to the belief of the existence of mermaids as half-fish and half-woman. This representation of mermaids has led to the portrayal of mermaids as being seductresses who live in the sea. They lure sailors with their enchanting songs and beauty. These creatures have since been used in folklore, such as The Story of Peter Pan, as symbols of temptation in order to create conflict.

Works Cited

Beare, Geoffrey. “Woodward, Alice B.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature.                     Ed. Jack Zipes. Oxford University Press, 2006. 14 October 2011. Web

Hallman, Ralph J. “The Archetypes in Peter Pan.” Journal of Analytical Psychology                       14.1(1969): 65-73. Academic Search Premier. 13 Oct 2011. Web.

Hollindale, Peter. “A Hundred Years of Peter Pan.” Children’s Literature in Education 36.               (2005): 197-215. Academic Search Premier. 16 Oct. 2011. Web.

Adam, Amanda. A Mermaid’s Tale: A Personal Search for Love and Lore. Vancouver                     [BC]:Greystone Books , 2009. Print.

Kokai, Jennifer . “Weeki Wachee Girls and Buccaneer Boys: The Evolution of Mermaids,              Gender, and “Man versus Nature” Tourism.” Theatre history studies 31 (2011): 67-               89,177. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.

Romano, Stefania , Vincenzo Esposito, Claudio Fonda, Anna Russo, and Roberto                          Grassi.”Beyond the myth: The mermaid syndrome from Homerus to Andersen’s                   bicentennial of birth.” European Journal of Radiology 58.2006 (2005): 252-259.                   Print.

Pirates in Peter Pan: Examining the Categorization of Adults as the ‘Other’

Authors: © Copyright 2011, Rebecca Freedman and Denielle Jackson

Daniel O’Connor. The Story of Peter Pan. Illustrated by Alice Woodward. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1907
Pirates in Peter Pan: Examining the Categorization of Adults as the ‘Other’

Curated by: Rebecca Freedman and Denielle Jackson

 “Literature entertains, stretches imagination, elicits a wealth of emotions, and develops compassion. It generates questions and new knowledge, affords vicarious experiences of other worlds, and provides encounters with different beliefs and values” (Pantaleo 221).

           J.M. Barrie’s play, Peter Pan,is retold by Daniel O’Connor. In Daniel O’Connor’s, The Story of Peter Pan, illustrated by Alice Woodward, the reader’s thoughts are stimulated through the imaginary world of Neverland. In Neverland, we are introduced to the unforgettable characters of Peter Pan, the Lost Boys and the pirates. Throughout the story, Peter Pan’s adventures are fearful, dangerous and exciting.  Peter Pan and his young friends are faced with many barriers that they overcome. The most important barrier to overcome is the battle with the pirates. The evil pirates represent the ‘other’ as they are opposite of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. The ideologies of childhood in the twentieth century are evident throughout the story. The focus of our exhibit is to examine the ideological values of childhood represented in Daniel O’Connor’s The Story of Peter Pan. Rebecca will explore the representations of pirates as adult, male figures, and the relationship between the pirates and the Lost Boys. Denielle will dive into the the social and cultural realities of 1907 in order to place this book at a particular moment in time.

The Relationship between Adults and Children in The Story of Peter Pan

In O’Connor’s The Story of Peter Pan, is it important to recognize the contradictory relationship between the adult and the child. Though the story mostly describes the adventures of the children, it is crucial to understand the relationship between the pirates and Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. As O’Connor’s story is a retelling of J.M. Barrie’s play, similar ideologies of childhood are presented. These ideologies are the opposing relationship between the imaginative child and the realistic adult. “What Barrie is mapping in his Neverland are fluid relationships between the real world of the Edwardian adults – overinscribed with imperial, impositional determinations – and the barrier-less world of the imaginary” (Fox 255). The notion of childhood is known as imaginary and unrealistic. These notions oppose the view of adults as colonial and superior. In The Story of Peter Pan, the adults are portrayed as pirates and are seen as superior to the children. The pirates represent the ‘other’ as they oppose the view of the imaginary and joyful children. Thus, the contrasting relationship between the pirates and the children in O’Connor’s story reinforce the ideologies of childhood.

 The Representation of Pirates in The Story of Peter Pan

The pirate ship is depicted in black and white, which is not only stylistic, but also economical. Printing in colour was very expensive.

Pirates in The Story of Peter Pan are important characters. The representation of pirates serves of great purpose when examining the ideologies of childhood. Historically, pirates were conniving, male adults who participate in illegal acts such as stealing. In the text, the historical identities of pirates are expected and portrayed through their behaviour (Fox 262). In The Story of Peter Pan, Captain Hook, the antagonist, represents Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis. Through a coloured illustration, by Alice Woodward, Captain Hook’s features are evil and scary. His face is angular and boney, and is shadowed to accentuate his dreadful features. His long black hair also represents wickedness, immorality and darkness. The all male cast of pirates are corrupted and “simply act as pirates do” (Fox 262). The pirates are deceitful in The Story of Peter Pan as it is expected of them through historical identity. Furthermore, the pirates have captured innocent children, the Lost Boys. Consequently, the pirates represent adult figures who are over exaggeratedly opposite of the innocent Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. This emphasis on child-adult conflict in The Story of Peter Pan reinforces the notion of childhood.

Eternal Youth: Peter Pan and the Lost Boys

In order to judge the pirates as evil, we must compare them to other characters. In opposing the representation of pirates as the ‘other’, we can examine the representation of children in The Story of Peter Pan. Eternal youth is a main theme in the story and overpowers the strong pirates. The children in the text are innocent and joyful. Their innocence seems to be more powerful than the pirates’ evilness. The Lost Boys are five young boys who were captured by Captain Hook and his crew. The five young and innocent boys were chained as prisoners on their ship. Neverland puts an emphasis on eternal youth as the children do not want to grow up (Springer 97). Shockingly, in the text, childhood innocence overpowers adulthood realism. When battling the pirates, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys ultimately outsmart them. Even thought the pirates were armed with swords, daggers, and blunderbusses, “youth and the values it protects come out victorious” (Springer 97).

 Fate of the Pirates

The outcome of the pirates proves that the ideologies of childhood are misleading. Childhood innocence is deemed to be superior to the pirates’ wickedness. The Story of Peter Pan portrays a deserving fate for the pirates. During the battle on the pirate ship, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys defeates the pirates. Peter Pan pushes Captain Hook into the jaws of a crocodile. The rest of the pirates drown except for two particular pirates, Smee and Starkey. “Starkey never shed blood but was guilty of evil deeds” (O’Connor 58). Starkey was captured by the Redskins and was made a nurse. This was a bad outcome for him as it was a step down from pirating. Smee, on the other hand, was the least evil of the pirates. He was not as wicked as the rest and therefore became a reformed character and a sailor (O’Connor 58). The outcome for Smee and Starkey was not fatal as they portrayed glimpses of innocence and were not purely evil, like the rest. Therefore, it can be said that the pirates that portrayed characteristics of childhood received a better fate than those who resembled adulthood.

Peter Pan: a timeless classic or a product of its era?

This picture illustrates the moment of victory for Peter Pan where Captain Hook is about to be eaten by a crocodile.

       Fairy tales are often seen as being timeless and placeless, conveying universal truths. Daniel O’Connor’s The Story of Peter Pan is no exception to this commonly held belief. If we have a closer look, we can see that fairy tales are actually time and place specific. They express conditions, attitudes and values pertaining to specific socio-cultural moments.This story is one of many children’s books that are used to socialize children in helping them understand the culture of the time as it emphasizes the differing relationship between the adult and the child (Pantaleo 226). In order to better understand the context of The Story of Peter Pan, we need to take a closer look at the period in which the story was written. At the time of the writing of The Story of Peter Pan, Britain had transformed from the Victorian era to the Edwardian period.


The Victorian-era: Children as Superior Beings

During the Victorian period, there was a large amount of industrialization and urbanization. Childhood was idealized because it was seen as pure, closer to nature, and closer to God. Children were largely regarded as superior beings in some regards. In Jacqueline Rose’s The Case of Peter Pan, or, the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction, she makes the argument that The Story of Peter Pan is not for or about children, but rather illustrates adults’ desire for the fantasy of childhood; innocence is not a distinctive quality of childhood, but rather adult desire (Rose 128). Victoria’s England was a child-dominated society, with one of every three of her subjects under the age of fifteen. For the first time, books were aimed at entertaining children instead of instructing them how to behave. This period was what many consider “The Golden Age” of children’s literature (White). In children’s fiction, it is common to put children in opposition with adults. This creates a binary that highlights the differences between adult and child. In Donna White’s, Child-Hating: Peter Pan in the Context of Victorian Hatred, she argues that “fantasy spaces of childhood almost always include beings that hate both the state of childhood and childhood itself” and that in Peter Pan, there is a “deliberately antagonistic relationship between adulthood and childhood…grounded in an irrational hatred” (White 44). Artists during the Victorian period portrayed children as innocent, simple and playful. Peter Pan is depicted as a complex character; he is full of joy, vitality and fearlessness but also selfish, cocky and ill-mannered. This can be attributed to the beginning of the Edwardian period. “The Victorian child is a symbol of innocence, the Edwardian child of hedonism. In fiction, the former is good, the latter has a good time” (White 122).

The Edwardian-era: the age of rebellion

The death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and the succession by her son Edward marked the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the Edwardian period. Edward, the Prince of Wales, had the reputation of being an irresponsible pleasure-seeking playboy. This, compounded with Victorian social and moral repression created an appetite for rebellion (Norris). Following the example of the fun-loving Prince of Wales sounded more appealing than growing up into the inadequate Victorian male. The Edwardian era is perceived as a romantic period with long endless summer afternoons. As Lyn Gardner said in her article Confronting Peter Pan’s ‘awfully big adventure’ in the Guardian, “it is easy to explain the appeal of Peter Pan to the Edwardians and post-WWI generation, who could see in the play an elegiac spectacle of endless summer days spent playing pirates and Indians”. The Story of Peter Pan continues to hold a place in our popular culture as a result of many ideas that the Edwardian period gave rise to. These include the rising importance of childhood, the influence of the imagined space, and the engagement of the hero archetype (Norris).

Alice B. Woodward: The Illustrator

This is a pivotal moment in the text and is the final battle between Peter Pan and the Lost Boys versus Captain Hook and the pirates


Alice Bolingbroke Woodward (1862-1951) was a famous English illustrator. She created 28 coloured plates for The Story of Peter Pan, and it has been continuously in print from 1907 to the present day (Springer). It is considered to be the most popular illustrated Peter Pan book of all time. Alice illustrates pivotal plot points and emotional moments, such as the battle between Peter and the pirates and the fate of the pirates when Peter pushes captain hook off of the ship. She also illustrates establishing pictures that place the reader in Neverland, such as the pirate ship.



Like many children’s books, the conflict in Peter Pan is derived from the pitting of child against adult, creating a binary opposite with the adult as ‘other’. By analyzing the representation of pirates in Daniel O’Connor’s The Story of Peter Pan, we are able to understand the significance of the relationship between the pirates and the Lost Boys as they represent adulthood and childhood. By delving into the historical moment in which the book was written, we are able to challenge the notion that children’s books are timeless and placeless and see that this is a book that could not have come out of any other time period.

“Torn between the opposing demands of innocence and experience, the author who resorts to the wishful magical thinking of the child nonetheless feels compelled, in varying degrees, to hold on to the grown-up’s circumscribed notions about reality. In the better works of fantasy of the [Victorian] period, this dramatic tension between the outlooks of adult and childhood selves becomes rich and elastic: conflict and harmony, friction and reconciliation, realism and wonder, are allowed to interpenetrate and co-exist.” (White 245)


Works Cited

Birkin, Andrew. J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.             Print.

Carpenter, Humphrey. Secret Gardens: The Golden Age of Children’s Literature. London:          George Allen & Unwin, 1985. Print.

Fox, Paul. “Other Maps Showing through: The Liminal Identities of Neverland.”                            Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 32.3 (2007): 252-68. ProQuest Research          Library. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.

Gardner, Lyn. “Confronting Peter Pan’s ‘awfully big adventure.'” The Guardian. Dec.                  30 2002. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.

Kavey, Allison. Second Star to the Right: Peter Pan in the popular imagination.                             New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2009. Print.

Nodelman, Perry. The Hidden Adult: Defining Children’s Literature. Baltimore: JHU Press,           2008. Print.

Norris, Nanette. A Child’s View of Edwardian London. Academia. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.

O’Connor, Daniel. The Story of Peter Pan. Illustrated by Alice Woodward. London: G. Bell

and Sons, 1907. Print.

Pantaleo, Sylvia. “Children’s Literature across the Curriculum: An Ontario Survey.”

       Canadian Journal of Education 27.2 (2002): 211-230. JSTOR. Web 10 Oct. 2011.

Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan, or, the Impossibility of Children’s

       Fiction. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. Print.

Springer, Heather. “Barrie’s Peter Pan.” The Explicator 65.2 (2007): 96. ProQuest. Web

10 Oct. 2011.

Steedman, Carolyn, Cathy Urwin, and Valerie Walkerdine. Language, gender                               and childhood. London: Routledge, 1986. Print.

White, Donna. “Child Hating: Peter Pan in the Context of Victorian Hatred.” J.M.                            Barrie’s Peter Pan in and out of time. Lanham, MD. Scarecrow Press, 2006.                       Web. 1 Nov. 2011.