Barrie’s Utopia?

For some time now I have been thinking about the meaning of ‘Neverland’ and why a place where children’s imaginations take form would have such a name. It wasn’t until I took a course in utopias and dystopias that I struck upon the idea of analysing the very name ‘Neverland’ from a semantic point of view.

The word ‘utopia’ was invented by Sir Thomas More for his book Utopia (1516), and it is a double meaning word. It comes from the Greek – οὐ – (ou) which means ‘not’, and – τόπος – (topos) which means ‘place’. Thus together (outopos) means ‘no place’, meaning that a place that does not exist. However, ‘ou’ is a homophone with the Greek – εὖ – (eu) which means ‘good’. Therefore ‘utopia’ sounds like both ‘no place’ and ‘good place’; a good place that nonetheless does not (and probably never will) exist.

Now, when I place ‘No Place’ and ‘Never-Land’ side by side, the similarity in name is unmistakable.

The description of Neverland by J.M. Barrie is as follows:

“Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still.

Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal. John’s, for instance, had a lagoon with flamingoes flying over it at which John was shooting, while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it. John lived in a boat turned upside down on the sands, Michael in a wigwam, Wendy in a house of leaves deftly sewn together. […] Of all delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and table-cloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very real. That is why there are night-lights.”

It is clearly an island of dreams and imagination, unique no each child, but comprised of the same fantastic visions. Neverland is ‘good’, yet just as ethereal (or in a way ‘unreachable or unattainable’) as a child’s imaginary adventure. It is both a good place and a no place.

But the similarities don’t stop there. The shape of the islands may also be compared. More’s description of Utopia states that:

“[it is] two hundred miles broad, and holds almost at the same breadth over a great part of it, but it grows narrower towards both ends.  Its figure is not unlike a crescent.  Between its horns the sea comes in eleven miles broad, and spreads itself into a great bay, […] In this bay there is no great current; […]  But the entry into the bay, occasioned by rocks on the one hand and shallows on the other, is very dangerous.  In the middle of it there is one single rock which appears above water, and may, therefore, easily be avoided;”

It is indeed reminiscent of the manner in which Neverland is commonly depicted, and the warning about a “single rock which appears above the water” which is very dangerous can be compared to the Marooners’ Rock in Peter Pan: “Marooners’ Rock, so called because evil captains put sailors on it and leave them there to drown. They drown when the tide rises, for then it is submerged.”

Whether dear Mr. Barrie intended this connection or not, one must admit that there is room for analysis. I’ve never read of this comparison before, but it would not surprise me to discover some academic research done on this idea. Neverland – a child’s utopian dream.

Share your thoughts, comments, dreams. See you around.

AR

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References

Barrie, Sir James M., Peter Pan (1911) <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16/16-h/16-h.htm&gt; [accessed 27 June 2012]

More, Sir Thomas, Utopia (1516) <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2130/2130-h/2130-h.htm&gt; [accessed 27 June 2012]

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopia [and] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Pan

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