A huge happy birthday to James Matthew Barrie, author of the wonderful Peter Pan! I loved this book, I love that Barrie creates this world and these characters that are wondrous and engaging, but he also writes the story with heart and sometimes blunt truths, there is no real romanticising about life, Neverland is the wonder away from the rest of the world and that is why it is marvellous.
In Kensington Gardens in London there is a status of Peter Pan honouring Barrie. Peter is playing his pipes and has animals at the base; it certainly lends itself to the theory that Peter Pan has a connection somehow to the Greek god Pan. I know him best for the novel Peter Pan, but J. M. Barrie had dozens of others works before and after of both stories and plays, right up until his death in 1937. He was knighted in 1913 for his literary work and in the same year became Rector of St Andrews University. His other successes include becoming the President of the Society of Authors, a title which he took from Thomas Hardy which is cool.
I never knew he was knighted, but I do remember that when I was studying Barrie and Peter Pan at university, it became very clear that he was certainly peculiar, or at least lived a strange life, one that no doubt impacted on him. He was not all strange though, he knew some excellent writers of the time including Robert Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
He was the ninth child out of ten, two having died before he was born, and as an adult he was only 5″ 1′ (about 155 cm). When he was young his brother David, who was the next eldest and his mother’s favourite, died just before his 14th birthday. It devastated his mother and Barrie then it seems devoted himself to trying to fill David’s place, to the extent that he even dressed in his clothing. Barrie wrote a biography of his mother called Margaret Ogilvy, and in it he discusses his mother’s reaction to David’s death, as well as his attempts to please her afterwards. If you want to read it it is available from Project Guttenberg for free.
There was a wonderful theory that we heard in class that Barrie wanted so badly to be David and be the “son who never grew up” for his mother that he developed psychological problems and even managed to stunt his growth and proper adolescent development. This does not seem to have any grounds in fact I think he was just short, but he was no doubt strange enough that he probably tried. His innocence that he held until adulthood made him the perfect candidate to write a story like Peter Pan, he never properly grew up, and loving to write and tell stories probably helped this, he could stay young and innocent forever through words. He was initially discouraged from becoming a writer, I for one am very glad he chose to write, where would we be without Peter Pan to fill our dreams and fantasies and to fly us to Neverland in the middle of the night?
Peter Pan has many influences, but the main ones that inspired the play and the characters of the Darlings was the connected to Mr and Mrs Llewelyn-Davies and their boys George, John, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas. And before the legends and did you know facts appear, no he did not create Wendy, it was a name prior to the first appearance of Peter Pan, Barrie simply popularised the name.
There is truly so much going on with Barrie, his relationship to the Llewelyn-Davies family that helped create this Peter Pan world, not to mention the sad fate that many of them had. The entire history and environment and life of Peter Pan is absolutely fascinating I could write forever on, but I won’t, I will however review Peter Pan, one of the greatest books, certainly became established in society and popular culture, and definitely a classic for all ages.
The boy who refuses to grow up teaches Wendy and her younger brothers how to fly. Then it’s off to magical Neverneverland for adventures with mermaids, Indians, and wicked Captain Hook and his pirate crew.
Everyone seems to know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, Tinkerbell and Wendy, and the mystical world of Neverland. I first knew of this story through the Disney version, but I also had a video of an Australian cartoon version which I also loved. Many of the versions of this story keep a lot of the same elements in it, there is no Peter Pan without pirates, Indians, or mermaids, but there are certainly some varying elements compared to the book.
The story of Peter Pan first appears in The Little White bird, a story written in 1902 by Barrie and was intended for adults, not children. The first real sighting of Peter is in the stage play in 1904 where it was titles Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. The novel version, which is probably the most well known version (aside from the movie interpretations), was extended from the original play and published in 1911 as a novel.
With the extended novel there is a chance to expand on character and ideas. There is also a lot more story within the book compared to what people know from the popularised Disney film. There is a lot more involvement of Mr and Mrs Darling in the book, and they come home as their children are flying out the window and know that their children are missing. Wendy, John, and Michael’s visit to Neverland happens in real time, and the time they spend there with the Lost Boys, Peter and Tinkerbell is time passing back in London. We get to see the reaction and life Mr and Mrs Darling have while their children are gone.
Barrie actually opens Peter Pan telling us the story of Mr and Mrs Darling, it is all very sweet. This also helps you understand them as people and parents, they are not just the parents with the story focusing solely on the children and their adventure, it is about the whole story sequence, not just the characters, but in the same wonderful way it is also so much about the characters.
I remember when I first read this story and realising that having a dog as your nanny was not a Disney invention of movie quaintness, it is actually in the book. Nanna it seems gets to have opinions about things and is a very good nanny. There is no first person narration for any of the characters, but Barrie does tell us what everyone thinks when it is required. Though this is not the only strange thing, there are other peculiarities, Mr Darling literally spends time in the doghouse out of guilt for his missing children, neighbours walking by and judging and everything. That was rather strange, but it has its humorous sides as well. It isn’t so much an absurd, only very strange at times.
There are many great moments in this book, even just reading about flying, the journey to Neverland and the adventures that await them. There is a little violence in this book regarding pirates and fairies, but it isn’t described in great detail, but it is still there. Peter helps this a little, in his own childlike way, brushes over things and quickly moves on to the next thing, always chasing another adventure as we are told. Tinkerbell speaks in the book, and there are additional characters and variations of scenes which make it that much better. A lot of Peter’s character is seen in his actions and his leadership. He can change from being proud and selfish to being rather noble and sweet very quickly.
Peter Pan is certainly not the exact character that the movies portray him as; in the book Peter Pan has much more selfish childishness as well as the naivety and cockiness. It is actually mentioned one of the reason Hook hates Peter so much is that he is always so cocky.
Peter is not the only bunt one, Barrie does enough of his own in his narration and explaining, it is very matter of fact, but Barrie expands on what needs to be told and what does not. The voice Barrie uses is one of a storyteller, you get the feeling he is speaking to readers as he recounts the lives and adventures of Peter and Wendy, this certainly adds to the magical nature, like a tale of times that once were.
Barrie definitely brings us some memorable characters in this book, not to mention quotes like “Second star to the right, and straight on till morning” and particularly “To die will be an awfully big adventure”, which is one that has stayed in my mind for years. It is rather telling of Peter’s mind when he says this. He has such a carefree attitude, never worrying and is not typically one to fret over anything. He definitely has a child’s mind, he moves from one thing to another, and quickly forgets things if they are over or no longer concern him. Though the connection and relationship he has with Wendy is sweet, you can feel that he loves the idea of having a mother and being cared for, but he wants things his way in his land, being the child forever.
The ending of Peter Pan and the events in the final chapter I found to be some of the most heartbreaking moments in this book, and certainly was not something I was expecting. I think it is a brilliant ending, but I felt such a pain as I read because it was so innocent, but also so sad at the same time; Barrie did an excellent job. There are entire moments of brilliance in this book, heartfelt, magical, and all round beautiful. You take the abruptness and the selfish Peter and you see him and others in so many other lights that it is all part of the magic and wonder that is Barrie’s story. There is so much to gain from reading this over a movie, the movie can bring you to the book, but the book can give you the soul of the story.