Along the way, Tatar addresses our contemporary uneasiness about Barrie’s apparent obsession with these children (and their mother) but comes down firmly against the view that he was some sort of pedophile. While Tatar doesn’t reprint “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens” — the chapters from “The Little White Bird” that first introduced Peter Pan to the world — she does reproduce all that volume’s superb illustrations by Arthur Rackham.
Not least, Tatar offers Barrie’s proposal for a screen treatment of “Peter Pan,” followed by a survey, with stills, of the various cinematic versions of the story, including such associated films as “Hook” and “Finding Neverland.” Twenty pages are devoted to critical or interpretative passages from the writings of critics and the memoirs of actors. A last essay, by Christine De Poortere, reminds us that Barrie’s will left the profits from “Peter Pan” to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.
Every year brings one or two “annotated” editions of various out-of-copyright classics. I’ve read a good many of them, and all have their merits. While Martin Gardner’s groundbreaking “The Annotated Alice: ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ ” remains the nonpareil of the genre, I would place Tatar’s “The Annotated Peter Pan” a close second. But bear in mind that its commentary is geared to adults: A child should first encounter the story straight on.
For that story remains magical, in all its important elements: Lost shadows; fairy dust; “You just think lovely wonderful thoughts”; the deliciously campy Captain Hook and his toadying bosun, Smee; that poisoned cake with green icing; Peter’s famous plea: “If you believe, clap your hands; don’t let Tink die”; and, of course, that best of all piratical threats: “There’s none can save you now, missy.”
The last chapter — when Peter finally returns for Wendy and instead flies away with her daughter Jane — is beyond praise:
“ ‘He does so need a mother,’ Jane said.
“ ‘Yes, I know,’ Wendy admitted rather forlornly; ‘no one knows it so well as I.’ ”
Yet the book doesn’t end there. One day, Barrie tells us, Jane will have a daughter, Margaret, who will eventually have a daughter, and each in her turn will be Peter’s mother, “and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.”
That last word is the final proof of Barrie’s genius.
Dirda reviews each Thursday in Style and conducts a book discussion for The Post at wapo.st/reading-room. His latest book, “On Conan Doyle,” has just been published.