Upon reflection, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a children's story has a dark side. I mean, have you ever actually read Grimm's Fairy Tales? In "Snow White," the evil stepmother is punished with a pair of red-hot iron dancing shoes that she wears to death, literally. Maybe what surprised me was that children's stories aren't that way anymore. I think there's something to be said for acknowledging the monster in the closet in all its frightening bulk, and I think that's what Barrie is getting at in the Neverland. It's not a perfect place. It's not a kid wonderland. It's a place where you can find yourself on the business end of James Hook, but if you live to tell the tale, what an adventure! What a story!
In general, I think our society stopped giving kids credit for being able to handle scary things. When the Harry Potter series started getting dark, I was glad. It was something we hadn't seen in a long time, and darn if the kids didn't love every word. Being afraid of the unknown is part of childhood, just as it is part of adulthood. The only difference lies in what we consider unknown changes. Given the choice between things like the Credit Crunch and Hook, I'll take being afraid of a Captain Hook any day. At least when you face a Hook, you always have a Peter Pan by your side.