The lost boys are waiting downstairs. When Mrs. Darling sees them, she resolves to adopt them right away. She wants to adopt Peter too, but he refuses. He will live in Neverland with Tinker Bell. He asks Wendy to come with him, and she almost says yes, but Mrs. Darling reminds Wendy that she needs a mother too. Peter promises to return for Wendy every year so that she can help him with his spring cleaning. Before he flies away he takes Mrs. Darling’s kiss, “the kiss that had been for no one else.”
Peter is violent, callous, and heartless. He is not quite a child, because he has lived so long, and he is not an adult, because he does not have to love another or fear death. But Mrs. Darling’s kiss is still for him and him only, for Peter is everything we love about childhood that is not true. His other qualities are only side-effects.
All the boys start going to school and leading ordinary lives. They eventually forget how to fly, because they stop believing in it.
The continuity of daily life and demands of adult life dull our belief in flight – which is literally a leap up from time’s horizontal flow.
Peter returns for Wendy the following year, though she is embarrassed that her old Neverland dress is too short. Peter has forgotten about all their old adventures, even about Hook and Tinker Bell. Peter explains that she has probably died, since fairies do not live for very long. Still, Wendy has a wonderful time with him in Neverland.
We are full of memories of people we love, and of places we love in nearly the same way. What would we be otherwise? Imagine a person who has forgotten everyone he has ever loved because he never loved them in any way other than as a child—which is to love in a selfish way. That is Peter Pan.
Peter does not come the next year, and Michael even wonders whether he really exists. He does come the year after that, though he doesn’t realize that he skipped a year. He does not come for a long time afterwards, and Wendy grows up and becomes a woman. All the boys become ordinary men, with jobs and beards.
Wendy gets married, and soon she has a daughter named Jane. Mrs. Darling is no longer alive. Jane, who now sleeps in the children’s old nursery, loves to talk to her mother about Neverland. She asks Wendy why she can no longer fly, and Wendy explains that only “gay, innocent, and heartless” children can fly. Once again, she tells Jane the old story about Peter Pan. When she tries to imitate Peter’s crowing, Jane herself crows just like Peter: she has heard the sound in her sleep.
Michael, John, and the lost boys love Peter Pan because they want to be him – to be children forever. But Wendy never wanted to stay a child forever. She wants to grow up, not because she is boring or unimaginative or conventional, but because she is not heartless. She does admire Peter, but in her precocious heart she also pities him. That is perhaps the main reason she agreed to come to Neverland in the first place.
One night, when Wendy is knitting and Jane is asleep, Peter Pan flies in through the window. He hasn’t changed at all, and he still has his baby teeth. Wendy is embarrassed to be so grown-up. He thinks it is Michael sleeping in the bed, and he is waiting for Wendy to come and do his spring cleaning. She tells him she can’t fly anymore. For once, Peter is afraid. She turns on the light, and runs out of the room.
The drop of real childhood that was Wendy’s gift to Peter has never left him. It is the ‘knocking’ he feels at the sound of Mrs. Darling’s tears, and his fear at the sight of Wendy as a grown woman. That pang of loss is a hair’s breadth away from love.
When Peter understands that Wendy has grown up, he begins to cry, and his sobs wake Jane. She asks him why he is crying, just as Wendy once asked him, and they become fast friends. When Wendy comes back in, Jane is flying all around the room. Later that night, Jane leaves with Peter to do his spring-cleaning.
But one cannot love someone one does not remember. The closest Peter comes to love is repetition, and so he must love Wendy by loving Jane. Children, like fairies, die young to become adults, but new ones soon replace them.
Wendy becomes old, and now it is Margaret, Jane’s daughter, that does Peter’s spring cleaning. It will go on forever that way, “so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.”
The fairies at Peter’s side replace one other in a never-ending cycle, and the Wendies do too. He comes back for them year after year, flying close to love and away again.