Conspiracy theories are extremely popular on the internet today. On YouTube, channels dedicated to conspiracy theories have millions of subscribers and views. There appears to be conspiracy theories about everything, from celebrity deaths, to if the moon landing was real or not, and literature is not excluded from this fad. People have dedicated their lives to studying texts and authors, trying to uncover the hidden meanings behind them. There are articles, studies, podcasts, etc. where people voice their theories and back it up with evidence. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and Peter and Wendy by J.M Barrie have flooded the Internet with videos and articles about conspiracy theories. While some may take the children’s literature at face value, others have dug deep to find hidden messages within these stories. Though it cannot be proven that any of these theories are true, they do provide an interesting take on classic children’s literature. By looking closely at these two texts there are subliminal messages that have created conspiracy theories as to what these childrens books are actually about.
Alice in Wonderland has become quite popular since it was published in 1865. There have been numerous films inspired by the story and many children grow up with Wonderland in their lives. However, there has been speculation as to what this novel is truly about. One theory that many critics have discovered is the underlying sexual innuendos throughout the text. The start of this theory begins with Carroll’s relationship with the “real Alice,” Alice Liddell. Her father was the Dean of Christ Church, where he met Carroll. Carroll befriended the young girl, and she was not the only one. In an article on BBC titled “Alice in Wonderland’s hidden messages,” Hephzibah Anderson writes, “though there is no evidence of anything untoward in Dodgson’s relationships, it’s hard not to view as suspect a grown man who enjoyed having his young playmates sit on his lap and pose for photographs, often under-dressed.” This background would explain why there seem to be sexual depictions in Alice in Wonderland. “From the rabbit hole itself to the curtain that she must push aside. Locks and keys were seen as symbolic of coitus, and the caterpillar well, wasn’t he just a bit phallic?” (Anderson). Before Alice starts to shrink, salt water that drips from her chin, which could suggest ejaculation and masturbation. Even the language that Carroll uses, such as Alice “penetrating” the rabbit hole seems to suggest sexual undertones. When Alice’s neck extends, resembling a male erection, her penis envy causes her to ramble on about her feet, “Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stocking for you now, dears?”(Carroll, 70). The picture in the text also resembles a penis with the head being larger than the neck. Theorists and critics believe these subliminal sexual messages were a result of Carroll’s own repressed sexuality and desires. It is possible that Carrolls’ personal desires made their way into his writing. It is difficult to believe that one could not realize such blatant sexual references, but perhaps theorists are just looking for faults. However, these sexual theories about Wonderland make it difficult to believe it was intended for children.
The most common conspiracy theory about Alice in Wonderland is that it is about drugs. Considering the book was written during the era of legal opium use, this idea doesn’t seem like a far stretch. Various parts of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland are psychedelic. Alice is constantly drinking potions and eating mushrooms to change her physical state, with no clear proof of what is actually in these substances.
The caterpillar smokes a hookah (Carroll 43) and the Cheshire Cat is constantly disappearing, only leaving behind his infamous grin. There have even been references in the media linking Alice in Wonderland to drugs. The lyrics to Jefferson Airplane’s song, “White Rabbit” say, “When the men on the chessboard get up / And tell you where to go / And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom / And your mind is moving low / Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know.” The Matrix references Wonderland as well, “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole Beaton 2 goes.” Though many believe the drug connection in the text is obvious, Carroll wasn’t known to have a recreational drug problem himself. If Carroll did not use drugs himself, then why would he reference them in his book? There may never be a clear answer as to what Carrolls’ intentions were, but it isn’t difficult to draw connections between drugs and some of the happenings in Wonderland. It is easy to see why some believe Alice’s journey is one long trip because of the distorted sense of time and talking animals along with other interesting characters. The Cheshire Cat says it best, “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad,” (Carroll 65) and what is more mad than being on drugs?
Peter and Wendy has some dark conspiracy theories surrounding it as well. “It’s been more than 100 years since Peter Pan made his debut, but he’s never been more popular ?” or more difficult to pin down” (Moss). J.M. Barrie had an ominous past of his own, so it would be no surprise if his trauma impacted his writing. When Barrie was 6, his Mother’s favorite child David died in an ice-skating accident the day before he turned 14 years old. After his brothers’ death, Barrie would wear his brother’s clothes and even whistled in the same manner as David in order to console his grieving mother. Barrie had some “lost boys” of his own. When the Llewelyn Davies parents passed away, Barrie assumed guardianship of the boys. “In case any blood relatives protested, he had Sylvias’ will forged, giving him custody (Edwards). There is speculation about whether or not Barrie had inappropriate relationships with these boys, all of their suspicious deaths leave room for question. Michael Davies, one of the boys that Barrie created the Peter Pan stories for and was the caretaker of, drowned when he was 21 years old, thought to be a possible suicide. George Llewelyn Davies died in 1915 while serving in the first World War. Peter Llewelyn Davies committed suicide at the age of 63. “Peter threw himself under a train. This was after he destroyed almost all the letters from Barrie to the Davies boys, sayingthey were simply ??too much’” (Edwards). Death appeared to plague Barrie’s life, which gives conspiracy theorists background to their claims. “Barrie’s version of Peter Pan is quite darker than the character audiences know and love today” (Moss). To most, Peter Pan is a charismatic Disney character, but discovering these depressing origins, it leaves room for theorists to run wild. The concept of a boy never growing up appears to stem from the loss of his brother David who “as if frozen, he remained forever: a child image inhabiting the minds of those who knew him, even after Beaton 3 Barrie grew into adulthood” (Corcuera).
Barrie invented various versions of the character Peter Pan, and the first time he appeared in one of Barrie’s books adds some interesting background information. Peter Pan first appeared in Barrie’s novel The Little White Bird, written in 1902. Part of the story is a baby who flew to Kensington Gardens to avoid growing up. “This was possible because the baby, still very young, remembered being a bird in that park whose birds had the distinction of being the souls of the children who would later populate the real world” (Corcuera). The baby, Peter Pan, eventually tried to leave Kensington Gardens, but he found the window from which he flew out was closed. Instead, he saw his mother cradling another boy. “the poor boy had no choice but to stay and live in Kensington Gardens as a psychopomp?” i.e. burying the children who die in the park?”in twos because it seemed less lonely” (Concuera). Learning about the eerie past of the evolution of Peter Pan, it creates possibility for conspiracy theories to form. The novelist DH Lawrence once said of Barrie: “He has a fatal effect on those he loves. They die.” Though his character has evolved over time, the connection between Barrie’s own traumatic history and Peter Pan are interesting and complex.
One theory that has resulted in numerous articles and videos is that Peter Pan kills children. Many people today are familiar with the film adaptations of Peter Pan, which leave them with a very different impression than those who have read Peter and Wendy. “Those who have read the novel might be more likely to use words like, ??sadistic,’ ??arrogant,’ and ??selfish,’” (Owlcation) to describe Peter Pan. There is no actual food in Neverland, but when Peter eats the fake meals, he is satisfied, yet the Lost Boys are still hungry after these pretend meals. The theory is that Peter kills children by “thinning them out” because growing up is against t
he rules of Neverland. This would mean that Peter Pan is already dead himself, hence why he never grows up, and why he doesn’t need real food. This theory does not seem too far fetched, especially when Peter reveals his hostile side in the book. When Wendy and the other children mention returning home, Peter grows enraged, “he was so full of wrath against grown-ups, who, as usual, were spoiling everything, that as soon as he got inside his tree he Beaton 4 breathed intentionally quick short breaths at the rate of about five to a second. He did this because there is a saying in the Neverland that, every time you breathe, a grown-up dies; and Peter was killing them off vindictively as fast as possible” (Barry). Peter hates grown-ups so much, it is not surprising that he would kill children so there are less grown-ups in the world. He even switches side mid-battle sometimes, meaning that he would then be attacking and killing the Lost Boys, who are supposed to be his friends. When Peter is away from Neverland, it becomes a peaceful place without battle, making Peter appear to be the villain. When looking closely at the text and Barrie’s history, this theory does appear to have some strong claims. Another conspiracy theory surrounding Peter and Wendy is that Neverland is where sick children go. Dr. Allison Kavey believes that Pater Pan only escapes aging because he is already dead, “there is the sense that Neverland is the place that sick children go in their minds. But some never get to come home” (Kavey). Peter never goes home because he is already dead, and he wants other sick children to stay with him so they can not grow up together. This would make sense in the end, because Wendy, Michael, John, and the lost boys all go back to live with the Darlings, meaning they’ve chosen to grow up, or live, instead of staying in Neverland with Peter. It is said that Peter Pan can be seen in the faces of Mothers’ who do not have children, which would support the idea that many children Peter takes away die, leaving mothers childless. Mrs. Darling refuses to close the window, leaving it open for the children to return, because they are not dead. Peter’s mother, however, closed the window on him, representing his death. Peter even tries to close the window so that the children will believe the Darlings don’t want their children back. Neverland has heaven-like qualities, it is a magical land where those who stay (die) can have eternal youth.
Even literature cannot escape the conspiracy theory epidemic. Both Peter and Wendy and Alice in Wonderland have theories surrounding them that are quite dark for children’s literature. Though these theories are not proven, they do add new insight and questions to the popular stories most people know and love. Perhaps these conspiracy theories have taken a piece of innocent children’s literature too far, or perhaps they have exposed the darker side to seemingly innocent novels.
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