When Wendy is a little girl of two, she understands from a wistful comment of her mother’s that she will not stay a child her entire life. Like all children she will one day become an adult.
Wendy’s mother is troubled, if only a little, by the way her child will disappear into an adult, but two-year-old Wendy accepts the inevitability peacefully.
Wendy’s mother, Mrs. Darling, is pretty and imaginative, with some mystery about her. The mystery seems to reside especially in one corner of her mouth, where a “kiss” – a sort of dimple –seems to hide itself even from loved ones, including Mr. Darling. Mr. Darling does not mind that he can never have the kiss in the corner of her mouth. Instead he is satisfied to know that his wife respects him – for his knowledge of economics, among other things.
Mrs. Darling’s “kiss” is not an ordinary kiss. The term seems to be an invention of Barrie’s, and it indicates both something visible, the elusive charm of a smile, and something invisible, a kind of childlike freedom from ordinary life. In one corner of her mouth, at least, Mrs. Darling remains free and wild. She kisses her husband—an action of a grownup—with the other corner.
Some time after the two are married, they have three children: Wendy, John, and Michael. They can just barely afford the children on Mr. Darling’s salary. Even so, they want everything to be proper, so they hire a nanny – a large Newfoundland dog called Nana. She is an excellent caretaker in all respects, but other children’s nurses gossip meanly about her, and Mr. Darling worries that such an employee (i.e. a dog) might affect his reputation. He also worries that Nana does not respect him sufficiently, but Mrs. Darling always assures him otherwise. They are, in general, a happy, jolly family.
As the Neverland world of the children is unsettled sometimes by the unmagical behaviors of adults, the world of Mr. and Mrs. Darling is unsettled by the fantastical winds of Neverland. Tedious concerns about respectability go hand in hand with magical dogs. The Neverland island sometimes comes very close to the adult world, and the adults have grown quite used to its influence, though they would not admit it.
Mrs. Darling first learns of Peter Pan late one night in the nursery, where she is performing the daily task of putting her children’s minds in order. Like all mothers, she sorts through her children's’ feelings of the day, putting the meaner ones at the bottom and the nicer ones at the top.
Mrs. Darling’s motherly chores are a delightful mixture of tedium and sorcery. Like all mothers, she is always cleaning and sorting, a very dull sort of activity. But she is also delicately altering and nurturing her children’s minds.
The map of a child’s mind is the map of that child’s private Neverland, a colorful, magical place full of dangers and joys, and also ordinary everyday things. Wendy, John, and Michael each have their own Neverlands, but as they are siblings their Neverlands have “a family resemblance.” Most of the time Neverland is very delightful, but just before bed it becomes too real and very frightening. Children travel there often, but adults can never return there.
Mrs. Darling has several windows into Neverland, a place where adults are generally forbidden. But then Mrs. Darling is not quite fully adult, owing to the “kiss” at the corner of her mouth. She is not afraid of Neverland, though the children are afraid sometimes, when fantasy’s incursion on reality feels like an attack.
One day Mrs. Darling asks Wendy to explain Peter Pan, a person she has noticed in the children’s minds. Mrs. Darling vaguely remembers Peter from her own childhood as a little boy who lived among the fairies. She thinks he must be grown by now, but Wendy insists that he is a child just like her. Not long afterwards, Mrs. Darling finds some very unusual leaves on the nursery floor. Wendy explains that Peter must have been visiting them while they were asleep.
Like many adults, Mrs. Darling seems to have impressions and memories from childhood that now seem impossible to her. Though they are her own memories, her adultness requires that she write them off as fantasy. She is forced to narrow her scope of the possible, to bring it into line with an insistent, overwhelming realism.
The next night, Mrs. Darling falls asleep over her sewing in the nursery after the three children have gone to bed. She dreams that a boy has “broken through” from Neverland and come very close to the real world. While she is dreaming, a boy enters the nursery through the window. A light flickering around him wakes Mrs. Darling, who looks at Peter with surprise. He looks just like her mysterious “kiss”, and still has all his baby teeth.
Mrs. Darling can dream of Neverland just as well as the children. Her dreams are not ‘merely’ fantasy, as she believes, because in this case they come true. The phrase “broken through” suggests that some force or violence is involved in crossing from the imagined world to the real world, and that few can make the journey.