The light flickering around Peter Pan is a tiny fairy named Tinker Bell, who begins looking for Peter’s shadow as soon as they fly into the nursery. When she speaks it sounds like many little bells, and it is incomprehensible to ordinary humans. She tells Peter that his shadow is in the chest of drawers. But when he tries to put his shadow back on, it will not stick. He begins to cry in frustration.
Peter is an impossible magical being. But when we ask “what is Peter Pan?” we are really asking “what is a child?” For Peter, at first, seems to be a child without any trace of adulthood. Wendy begins to become an adult at only two years old, when she sacrifices the dream of being a child forever. But Peter never seems to sacrifice any dreams, or acquire any adult traits.
Wendy wakes up and they introduce themselves. She is surprised by Peter’s short name and his explanation of directions to where he lives: “second to the right and straight on till morning.” She is especially shocked that he does not have a mother. When she understands why he is upset, she decides to sew the shadow onto his heels herself. As soon as it’s done, Peter becomes very pleased with himself: he thinks all the credit is his. He has a very short memory, and he is very arrogant.
In the short time that Peter has spent in the nursery, he has caused a lot of trouble: he has been careless about Tinker Bell and ungrateful to Wendy. He has hurt them both, if only a little, because he does not know how to consider the feelings of others. But they love him anyway because of his child's charm, and even to them that love is mysterious.
Wendy takes offense at his ingratitude and hides in bed. Peter Pan then becomes apologetic and tells her “one girl is more use than twenty boys.” Wendy is very flattered and emerges from under her blanket. She offers to give him a kiss. When Peter does not understand what she means, she gives him a thimble instead, and he gives her a button. She puts it on a chain around her neck for good luck.
Wendy is just as susceptible to flattery as Peter Pan, since she, too, is a child and has not completed her transformation into adulthood. Does Peter really mean what he says? He is trying to win her forgiveness, so the compliment seems deliberate. Is Peter capable of deceit?
Peter tells Wendy that he ran away from his father and mother to live with the fairies in Kensington Gardens, so that he doesn’t ever have to become a man and can have fun forever. He explains that fairies are born from babies’ laughter, and that a fairy dies every time a child says she doesn’t believe in fairies.
An eternal child seems like a very grand and moving thing. But Peter’s motivations do not seem to be very grand. He is repelled by adults, by their largeness and heaviness and the boredom of their lives. He does not see anything of value there, and that is his blindness.
Suddenly he realizes that Tinker Bell is stuck in a drawer, and laughs a very wonderful childish laugh. When he lets her out, she is angry and rude, but Wendy is enchanted nonetheless. “She is a quite a common fairy,” Peter says, explaining that Tink repairs kitchenware. Peter goes on to say that he lives in Neverland with the lost boys, children who fall out of baby carriages. He hints that they need a girl to take care of them. Wendy is so pleased that she gives him a real kiss, which she calls a thimble, and Peter gives her one in return. Tinker Bell pulls her hair jealously.
Just as Mrs. Darling is a little bit of a sorceress, Tinker Bell is a little bit of a drudge. Though Neverland is an imaginary place, it still has chores. Perhaps it is unsatisfying to imagine a place entirely free of drudgery, even for a child. Peter goes to Neverland by choice, but the other children go by necessity – because they have no real homes.
Peter tells her that he has been coming to the nursery to listen to stories, since neither he nor the lost boys know any good stories. Wendy tells him the end of Cinderella, which Mrs. Darling has been reciting for the children at bedtime, and when Peter jumps up to go tell the other boys she begs him to stay – she can tell him many more.
Peter Pan and the lost boys live out real fairy tales, but they are still desperate to hear one told. They have gone on numberless adventures, but they still feel that they have no stories of their own. They need a storyteller.
Peter asks Wendy to come with him and tell stories to all the boys. He tempts her by describing Neverland magic, and all the motherly tasks she could perform there. He also promises to take John and Michael along. Wendy wakes up her brothers and tells them Peter Pan is here and he is going to teach them to fly. Meanwhile, Nana is barking loudly to alert the Darling parents to the danger in the nursery. Finally, she breaks the chain and runs to the party where they are spending the evening. The Darlings rush back to the house at once.
Peter Pan is generally quite contemptuous of mothers. He thinks mothers are unnecessary, and cause a great deal of trouble and annoyance. But he is clearly asking Wendy to come be a mother to him and the other boys. Does he need her to perform simple but boring tasks, like sewing? Does he need her to perform a certain kind of motherly magic, like Mrs. Darling’s mind-sorting? Or does he just want a mother?
Meanwhile, Peter shows the children how to fly. He blows some fairy dust on them, tells them to wiggle, and up they go. As soon as they get the hang of it, they decide to fly to Neverland at once. By the time the Darlings reach the bedroom, it is empty.
Fairies are created from children’s laughter, and fairy dust must be made of the same thing. To make them fly, Peter blows childlikeness at the children. He makes them more fully children.