A World of Speculation

In a review of Finding Neverland, Frederica Mathewes-Green points out an insidious trend in children’s literature:

When Sylvia dies, Barrie instructs her son Peter (Freddie Highmore), “She’s on every page of your imagination. You’ll always have her here. She went to Neverland and you can visit her there any time you like.” Peter asks, “How?” and Barrie continues, “By believing, Peter. Just believe.

“Well, this is pure, double-filtered, lemon-scented hogwash. No grieving child should be loaded up with such malarkey — burdened with the obligation to materialize his own dead mother through mental exertion, burdened to think that the inevitably fading or fluctuating memory is his fault because he failed sufficiently to “believe.”

Contrary to popular opinion, believing don’t make it so. There is a reality about life after death, a “so,” that exists whether we believe in it or not. We don’t know much about it and can prove even less, but that doesn’t mean imaginary projections will constitute reality if we squeeze the sides of our head hard enough. Believing in belief is a useless, superficial exercise. Real human conviction and experience travel in less predictable patterns — as real playwright J. M. Barrie knew.

Disney has been telling kids to believe in believing at least since “When you wish upon a star / Makes no difference who you are / Anything your heart desires will come to you” (in a film that distorted the message of an Italian children’s novel about the Prodigal Son).

Neverland isn’t Disney, though, and the message that you can do anything you dream has filtered through the culture as the only “faith” message allowed in the secular world. It’s true that children can, with effort and diligence, do more than they think they can. It’s also true that God can do anything, but the middle message, that children can do anything, with just a wish and a dream, is “pure, double-filtered, lemon-scented hogwash.”