The Mystery of Peter Pan

The mystery of Peter Pan & J M Barrie

Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, OM (9 May 1860 – 19 June 1937) was a Scottish author and dramatist, best remembered today as the creator of Peter Pan.
The child of a family of small-town weavers, he was educated in Scotland.
He moved to London, where he developed a career as a novelist and playwright. There he met the Llewelyn Davies boys who inspired him in writing about a baby boy who has magical adventures in Kensington Gardens (included in The Little White Bird), then to write Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, a "fairy play" about this ageless boy and an ordinary girl named Wendy who have adventures in the fantasy setting of Neverland.

'Zac with Peter Pan'
November 2014
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
like Peter - Zac never grows up

This play quickly overshadowed his previous work and although he continued to write successfully, it became his best-known work, credited with popularising the name Wendy, which was very uncommon previously.
Barrie unofficially adopted the Davies boys following the deaths of their parents.
Before his death, he gave the rights to the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital, which continues to benefit from them.

Barrie was born in Kirriemuir, Angus, to a conservative Calvinist family. His father David Barrie was a modestly successful weaver. His mother, Margaret Ogilvy, had assumed her deceased mother's household responsibilities at the age of eight. Barrie was the ninth child of ten (two of whom died before he was born), all of whom were schooled in at least the three Rs, in preparation for possible professional careers.
He was a small child (he only grew to 5 ft 3½ in. according to his 1934 passport), and drew attention to himself with storytelling.
When he was 6 years old, Barrie's next-older brother David (his mother's favourite) died two days before his 14th birthday in an ice-skating accident. This left his mother devastated, and Barrie tried to fill David's place in his mother's attentions, even wearing David's clothes and whistling in the manner that he did. One time Barrie entered her room, and heard her say 'Is that you?' 'I thought it was the dead boy she was speaking to,' wrote Barrie in his biographical account of his mother, Margaret Ogilvy (1896), 'and I said in a little lonely voice, "No, it's no' him, it's just me."' Barrie's mother found comfort in the fact that her dead son would remain a boy forever, never to grow up and leave her.
Despite evidence to the contrary, it has been speculated that this trauma induced psychogenic dwarfism, and was responsible for his short stature and apparently asexual adulthood.
Eventually Barrie and his mother entertained each other with stories of her brief childhood and books such as Robinson Crusoe, works by fellow Scotsman Walter Scott, and The Pilgrim's Progress.
At the age of 8, Barrie was sent to The Glasgow Academy, in the care of his eldest siblings Alexander and Mary Ann, who taught at the school.
When he was 10 he returned home and continued his education at the Forfar Academy.
At 13, he left home for Dumfries Academy, again under the watch of Alexander and Mary Ann.
He became a voracious reader, and was fond of penny dreadfuls, and the works of Robert Michael Ballantyne and James Fenimore Cooper.
At Dumfries he and his friends spent time in the garden of Moat Brae house, playing pirates 'in a sort of Odyssey that was long afterwards to become the play of Peter Pan'.

The first appearance of Peter Pan came in 'The Little White Bird', which was serialised in the United States, then published in a single volume in the UK in 1901.
Barrie's most famous and enduring work, 'Peter Pan', or 'The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up', had its first stage performance on 27 December 1904.
This play introduced audiences to the name Wendy, which was inspired by a young girl, Margaret Henley, who called Barrie 'Friendy', but could not pronounce her Rs very well and so it came out as 'Fwendy'.
It has been performed innumerable times since then, was developed by Barrie into the 1911 novel Peter and Wendy, and has been adapted by others into feature films, musicals, and more. The Bloomsbury scenes show the societal constraints of late Victorian middle-class domestic reality, contrasted with Neverland, a world where morality is ambivalent.
George Bernard Shaw's description of the play as 'ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children but really a play for grown-up people', suggests deeper social allegories at work in Peter Pan.
In April 1929 Barrie specified that the copyright of the Peter Pan works should go to the nation's leading children's hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

Barrie died of pneumonia on 19 June 1937 and is buried at Kirriemuir next to his parents and two of his siblings. He left the bulk of his estate (excluding the Peter Pan works, which he had previously given to Great Ormond Street Hospital) to his secretary Cynthia Asquith.

Peter Pan first appeared in a section of "The Little White Bird", a 1902 novel written by Barrie for adults.
The character's best-known adventure debuted on 27 December 1904, in the stage play "Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up".
The play was adapted and expanded somewhat as a novel, published in 1911 as Peter and Wendy" (later as "Peter Pan and Wendy", and still later as simply "Peter Pan").
Following the highly successful debut of the 1904 play, Barrie's publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, extracted chapters 13–18 of "The Little White Bird" and republished them in 1906 under the title "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens", with the addition of illustrations by Arthur Rackham.
Peter Pan has appeared in a number of adaptations, sequels, and prequels since then, including the widely known 1953 animated feature film "Walt Disney's Peter Pan", various stage musicals (including one by Jerome Robbins, starring Cyril Ritchard and Mary Martin, filmed for television), live-action feature films "Hook" (1991) and "Peter Pan" (2003), and the authorized sequel novel "Peter Pan in Scarlet" (2006).

The notion of a boy who would never grow up was based on J. M. Barrie's older brother who died in an ice-skating accident the day before he turned 14, and thus always stayed a young boy in his mother's mind. Ironically, the "boy who wouldn't grow up" has appeared at a variety of ages.
In his original appearance in The Little White Bird he was only seven days old.
Although his age is not stated in Barrie's later play and novel, his characterization is clearly years older. The book states that he has all of his baby teeth, and Barrie's intended model for the statue of Peter that was erected in Kensington Gardens was a set of photos of Michael Llewelyn Davies taken at the age of six.
Early illustrations of the character generally appeared to be that age or perhaps a few years older.
In the 1953 Disney adaptation and its 2002 sequel, Peter appears to be in late childhood, between 10 and 13 years old. (The actor who provided the voice in 1953 was 15-year-old Bobby Driscoll.)
In the 2003 film, Jeremy Sumpter was 13 at the time of filming.


Take a gentle stroll through Kensington Gardens on a soft, sunny summer afternoon.
As you walk away from the glittering gold of the neo-gothic spires of the Albert Memorial, down the avenue of tall trees to the Watts statue of 'Physical Energy', you can make a little detour towards the cool limpid waters of the Serpentine.
There, by the lake, you will find the statue of a pretty young boy who is playing on some pipes.
This statue is unique in London in that it portrays not an idealized personification of some 'virtue', or a famous historical figure, but rather a fictional character from a 'supposedly childrens' storybook.
The statue is by the eminent Victorian sculptor Sir George James Frampton, and is of Peter Pan, the eponymous hero of J M Barrie's play, (because the model for the statue was a boy called James Shaw, and not Michael Llewellyn-Davies, - of who more later- Barrie was very disappointed with the result, and commented, "It doesn't show the devil in Peter.").

The world-famous play and book, Peter Pan was based on the curious relationship that Barrie had engineered with a group of young brothers, the Llewelyn-Davies boys.
Barrie, although he was married to Mary Ansell, had no children, - although they did have a big St Bernard dog, Porthos, who reappears in Peter Pan as 'Nana', the canine nanny to the Darling children.
Shortly after his disastrous marriage, Barrie befriended a young couple called Llewelyn-Davies who lived near by, in South Kensington. At the time Sylvia & Arthur Llewelyn-Davies had three sons, George, Jack and Peter.
Eventually two more sons were born - Michael and Nicholas.

Barrie seemed to 'steal' these boys from their parents, endlessly playing with them, telling them stories and photographing them, (occasionally in the nude - when they were swimming).
The boy's father, Arthur Llewelyn-Davies, not surprisingly, gave every sign of disapproving of this somewhat strange state of affairs but, being a gentleman, he never made a fuss.

Equally, Arthur never made a fuss when Barrie made him the prototype for the ineffectual and spineless Mr Darling in 'Peter Pan'. Strangely, however, Barrie insisted that in the play the same actor who played Mr Darling should also play Captain Hook - so perhaps Barrie had a divided opinion about Arthur.
After some years of being persistently neglected by Barrie, Mary took up with a much younger man, and Barrie was forced into a divorce. With Barrie then spending even more time with Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies and the boys, Arthur conveniently died of cancer of the jaw, leaving Barrie to maintain what then became a paternal interest in the late Arthur's sons, and their widowed mother, Sylvia.
A short time after Arthur's death, the distraught, grieving mother; the beautiful Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies, who was Barrie's model for Mrs Darling in Peter Pan, also died of cancer, which we may speculate was exactly what Barrie secretly wanted.
After having clandestinely, but clumsily 'doctored' Sylvia's will in his favour with regard to the boys, Barrie was left as the boy's guardian, and it is from those boys, and particularly Michael, that Peter Pan, 'the boy who never grew up', emerges.
Strangely, Barrie, who was a rather sickly man, and addicted to tobacco, outlived two of the Llewelyn boys, George and Michael.
George was killed at 'the front', in France, during the 1914-1918 war.


Michael, (Barrie's true favourite, and probably the actual model for Peter Pan), was younger, than George, and missed the War, but he died in his last year at Oxford University, probably committing suicide when he was drowned with his young lover, Rupert Buxton, so Michael, like Peter Pan, did not in fact grow up.

Peter, who became a successful publisher, also committed suicide some years after Barrie's death, throwing himself under a train, and only the youngest brother, Nico, lived into relative old age.

 It seems that the idea of never growing up, which is the main theme of a number of Barrie's books and plays, and is the central theme of 'Peter Pan', cast an ominous shadow over at least three of the boys.
The lines "death would be a great adventure" are spoken by Peter in the book, 'Peter & Wendy', and in the play 'Peter Pan', - and perhaps it was that sentiment that echoed rather too forcefully in the minds of these brothers, causing George to raise his head over the parapet at the inopportune moment, Michael to take a morning dip with his boy-lover, when he couldn't swim, and Peter to step off the platform into the path of an oncoming train.
Those three boys died prematurely but Peter, the immortal boy, obviously lived on in endless revivals on the stage, in books and eventually in films.


Peter was introduced to J M Barrie and Peter Pan in 1954, at the local Odeon cinema at Hounslow West, through that infamous and desperately kitsch cartoon 'Peter Pan'.
The only things that really attracted Peter to his namesake then were the sentimental song, 'The Second Star To The Right', the flying (had our Peter ever flown before ?), and the idea of never growing up.
But Peter apparently did grow up, and forgot about the other Peter, and his creator - no, not 'Uncle Walt', but J M Barrie, the little Scottish man with the awful cough and a way with words.

Then came a flurry of films about 'Pan', including one film, called 'Hook' (1992), directed by Steven Spielberg, in which a grown up Peter, (and how could Peter ever grow up ?), played rather bizarrely by Robin Williams, returns to Never Land to rescue his children, who have been captured by captain Hook, equally bizarrely played by Dustin Hoffman.

Another film dealing with Peter Pan, 'Finding Neverland', featured a ridiculously handsome and tall J M Barrie, minus the moustache, who doesn't seem to have any of the pedophilic tendencies of the real man. The film mainly dealt with the relationship between Barrie and the Llewelyn-Davies family, although the chronology was so distorted that the story made very little sense.
To make matters even worse, a very strange pop star named his home 'Never Land', and made some serious problems for himself by 'entertaining' children there, - unlike Barrie, who never seemed to arouse anyone's concern by spending suspiciously inordinate periods of time playing with little boys.
But the magic was still there.

 Then, a film, simply called 'Peter Pan', with the Duchess of York providing a commentary, was released in 2003, financed by Mohammed Fyad, and dedicated to the memory of Dodi; Fayed's wastrel son who died in Paris in mysterious circumstances.

The film had a real, and stunningly handsome boy, Jeremy Sumpter, looking considerably younger than his fourteen years.
Wendy was the deliciously sweet Rachel Hurd-Wood, and Hook and Mr Darling were played the same individual, as required by Barrie, the actor in question being Jason Isaacs. The story was almost completely true to Barrie's original, but much revised play, and the absence of American accents in the cast was particularly pleasing - giving the production of this quintessentially English fantasy a truly English flavour.
Just prior to this release, our Peter had also, just out of sheer curiosity, read a couple of biographies of Barrie.
Much to Peter's surprise he had discovered from reading these biographies that there was a strong connection between Peter Pan and Kensington Gardens -

'Peter Pan' is arguably, one of the most significant books written in modern times, because it deals with not just childhood, but with all the important aspects of life, such as fathers, mothers, children, growing up, growing old, dying, time, (the clock in the crocodile - Barrie's symbol of our decay and death), feelings, and above all love, as symbolised by 'the kiss'.

Interestingly, Peter Pan, when offered a kiss by Wendy, doesn't know what a kiss is, and so he holds out his hand. Wendy, not wishing to embarrass the strange, but fascinating boy, gives him a thimble. There is, of course, another kiss in the story, Mrs Darling's kiss, which is concealed in the right hand corner of her mouth and is, significantly, out of reach of all three children and Mr Darling.

Is it possible to retain the optimism and sense of wonder that is the hallmark of a boy - a boy like Peter Pan, who could cry triumphantly,

'I am youth ! I am joy !' ?

But Peter Pan, was not just an immature boy.

Peter, as Barrie described him, did have feelings, and these could be as intense and profound as any adult's, although he always tried to vehemently deny it.

These feelings, denied but real and intense, were yet another part of Pan's paradoxical being, which remained a mystery to both Wendy and Hook.

Wendy said perceptively, 'You say so, but I think it is your biggest pretend.', when Peter denied his feelings.

Undoubtedly Peter felt strongly about Wendy, and was heart-broken when 'Tink' was dying.

He thought that death might be 'a great adventure', and was sad when he watched through the Darling's nursery window, and saw the family life of which he could never become a part.

Peter, however, remained childish, although not typically childish, in one very significant way, - and in this he shared something with his great nemesis, Captain J Hook – Peter could not love !

And why ?

Well perhaps it was because he had never known a mother, and a mother's love.

Having escaped from his nursery, Peter Pan lost this mother's love.

Hook, equally lost his mother's love when he was bundled off to preparatory school, and then to Eaton.

Maybe this was the reason for Peter Pan's and Hook's inability to love, - and maybe not - but sufficient to say that both characters are essentially tragic characters because of this lack of love.

Peter, in 'Peter & Wendy', says to Wendy, "Don't have a mother", and Barrie carefully adds, 'Not only had he no mother, but he had not the slightest desire to have one. He thought them very over rated persons. Wendy, however, felt at once that she was in the presence of a tragedy.'

Richard Wagner, that great explorer of the some of the most profound human emotions and motivations, tells us that – 'fear of our end is the source of all lack of love'. Here, for once, he may be wrong.

Lack of love is not a problem of our end, but of our beginnings, and while we can probably alter the path to our end, about our beginnings we can do nothing, and that is why an inability to love is so very truly tragic.
And what is the essence of a lack of love. Well it's a lack of empathy; a lack of sympathy and essentially an inability to accept the reality of others. It is a monstrous form of egotism, which may fill the soul with a triumphant sense of delight, echoing Peter's cry, 'I am youth ! I am joy !'.

And so the individual in question exalts himself above all other things as being the only true reality, yet it locks that individual in a tragic torment of loneliness.
As Barrie wrote in 'Peter & Wendy', 'Peter had ecstasies innumerable, that other children can never know, but he was looking at the one joy from which he must be forever barred' – the companionship and love of a family.
Peter could neither belong to a family, nor would he create a family of his own, so Peter was condemned to be fundamentally alone.

But still we are left with a longing for Neverland ?
A vaguely remembered place of true happiness, - briefly known and now lost forever ?
A longing to fly - once again ?

And how do you find Neverland ?

'Easy !'

As Peter said, 'Take the second star to the right, and fly straight on 'till morning !


'The second star to the right,
Shines in the night for you.
To tell you that the dreams you planned,
Really can come true.

The second star to the right,
Shines with a light so rare,
And if it's Neverland you need,
Its light will lead you there.

And when our journey is through,
Each time we say 'goodnight',
We'll thank the little star that shines,
The second from the right.'


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(the above are edited excerpts from 'So Long Ago - So Clear' © Peter Crawford 2011)

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