The Story of Peter Pan
One hundred and fifty-four years ago today, on May 9, 1860, James Matthew Barrie was born in Scotland. He’s best known as J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan. You’re probably familiar with the Disney movie but there is much more to the story of Peter Pan.
The Works of Peter Pan
The first appearance of Peter Pan was in Barrie’s novel, The Little White Bird, published in 1902. The first stage performance of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, was on December 27, 1904. Due to the success of the play, chapters 13-18 of “The Little White Bird” (the only chapters with Peter Pan) were published in 1906 as a collection called Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Barrie developed the play into the 1911 novel Peter and Wendy, now popularly published under the title “Peter Pan.” Both written works are standalone since there are inconsistencies that make them incompatible, such as Peter’s age given as seven days old in the children’s book and school age in the novel.
These three works are available for free download on Amazon for your Kindle.
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens
This fantasy tale explains that all children are birds before they become human so “they are naturally a little wild during the first few weeks, and very itchy at the shoulders, where their wings used to be.” As birds they are well acquainted with fairies, who came to be “when the first baby laughed for the first time, his laugh broke into a million pieces, and they all went skipping about.” This is why children can be unruly in their first two years as they become accustomed to human ways: they are doing the things they’ve seen fairies do.
At seven days old, Peter flew out an open window, which was unbarred. He was able to fly because of his unwavering confidence to do so. Immediately, he forgot he was ever human. He rejoined the birds but when they convinced him he was human after all he lost his faith to fly and was told, “You will never be able to fly again, not even on windy days. You must live here on the island always.”
Peter learned the ways of the birds and his heart was so happy he felt he must sing for joy just as they did. He made a pipe from reeds and played so beautifully he even deceived the birds. The thrushes built him a nest so he could sail to Kensington Gardens and play like the regular children did. He sailed at night and played in the Gardens with toys children had left behind.
Peter was the orchestra for the fairies and as reward for playing so beautifully the Queen decided to give him the wish of his heart. He asked to return to his mother but with the right to come back if he found her disappointing. To give him the power to fly, all the fairies tickled him on the shoulder.
On Peter’s first visit to his mother he played her a lullaby in her sleep. He decided not to start being his mother’s boy again that night but whispered a solemn promise to her to come back. There was no hurry, he thought, “for his mother would never weary of waiting for him.” The night he went to return to his mother forever, Peter found the window closed with iron bars on it. His mother was sleeping with her arm wrapped snugly around another little boy. He beat on the bars and called out to her but she didn’t hear him. He returned to the Gardens, sobbing, and never saw her again.
J.M. Barrie’s social circle was full of famous writers. He was friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Meredith. He corresponded with, but never met, Robert Louis Stevenson. George Bernard Shaw was once his neighbor. When Barrie’s marriage fell apart, good friend H.G. Wells tried helpfully to intervene. Another friend, Hugh Clifford, introduced him to Thomas Hardy when he was staying in London. Barrie founded a cricket team whose members included Doyle, A.A. Milne, Jerome K. Jerome and Walter Raleigh.
When Barrie died of pneumonia on June 19, 1937, he was buried in Scotland beside his parents and two siblings. His secretary received the bulk of his estate, excluding the works of Peter Pan which had already been given to a children’s hospital. The National Trust for Scotland maintains his birthplace at 4 Brechin Road as a museum, which includes a Peter Pan statue in the garden.
Peter Pan crafts
Celebrate the story of the boy who never grew up with your kids and these fun crafts.