Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Prolonged Youth of "Once Upon A Time"

The theme of PAMLA this year was “Stages of Life: Age, Identity, and Culture," which, as you can imagine, brought out a wealth of discussion on the many variations, formations, and instances of children, childhood and youth in literature as a whole (children's or otherwise). One of the ideas that I saw emerge throughout the conference is the idea of rebirth -- a rediscovery of childhood, of innocence, of youth. Admittedly this popped up in my own paper, but the notion that childness manifests itself in a myriad of ways that can be seen across all stages of life bubbled forth from numerous panels. And directly from that idea came the image of the prolonged or eternal youth.

I caught myself thinking about this in particular when I listened to a panelist discuss the nature of kids stepping out of their structured lives into an adventure. This specific topic discussed the hobo culture for children, and brought up an interesting commentary from the 1930's that concluded that children -- boys and girls alike -- ought to go out for an adventure, to escape and live "like hobos" but only for a few months (six at most) otherwise they will become "spoiled." The child may go "rotten" by experiencing too much of the so-called real world. He or she needs to retain some amount of innocence and unworldliness it seems.

How about flipping that idea, inverting it to think about a person who remains in youth, who tries to prolong his childishness, youth or appearance of youth. Elements of cultures are built around this concept (the image of eternal youth that defines Hollywood, for example), and it plays at the forefront of many YA novels now. The idea of the immortalized teenager, whether by vampire's bite or dystopian technology, suddenly presents these issues in a new light. Prolonged youth eventually leads to a rotten soul, perhaps?

Or if we allow ourselves to go further -- does it turn them downright evil?
Is that the belief spurring what's been done to Peter Pan, particularly in the reenvisioning on the current television series "Once Upon a Time"? The show represents the movement to reclaim fairy tales for adults, evidently by pitting the heroic adults against someone more devious, dangerous, and cunning than the dark Rumpelstiltskin, that someone being the eternal child Peter Pan. Depicting him as a threat to adults and children alike also troubles the usual adult/child binary that his story usually enlists. But in its place, do we now have the opportunity to critique Pan through the deleterious effects of eternal youth? Just something to think about.

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