“Peter Pan” and J. M. Barrie

Peter Pan” will have a reprise stage production this December at the Meridian Gardens, O2 Pavilion in London, in a custom room for 1,300 and on a round-stage. The production opened for an earlier run this year in Kensington Gardens, to great acclaim and it sold-out. If you are planning to visit London at the year-end holidays, then consider ordering tickets for the short performance schedule!

As Peter Pan is such an enduring character, it makes sense to try to understand the history behind the character and the author, J. M. Barrie — played by Johnny Depp in the recent Hollywood movie. Actually, Depp looks a lot like Barrie, but the Scots author was only 5 foot 3 inches tall, a Peter Pan in many ways!

He married, divorced and had no children, but he fell in love with the 5 Llewelyn-Davies boys when he met them in Kensington Gardens, across from his 100 Bayswater Road home (where he wrote Peter Pan”). The relationship with the boys (who became fatherless in 1904) and their mother, Sylvia, was the most profound of his life. They became the Lost Boys, and a friends’ delightful, helpful little daughter became the model for another character; Sylvia Llwelyn-Davies, may have become the model for “Wendy”. Her fourth son, Michael, was also included in the characters. Peter is a mix of Barrie and his older brother who tragically died in childhood — “the boy who never grew up” takes on a whole new meaning.

Peter Pan first appeared in a section of a J. M. Barrie novel called The Little White Bird. It was Peter’s exploits that brought Barrie lasting fame. The literary character’s best-known adventure debuted as a stage play on 27 December 1904 as “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”.

This story was then adapted and expanded as a novel, published in 1911 as “Peter and Wendy”, and later as “Peter Pan and Wendy”. Originally, the fabled location was Never Never Never Land, which had been reduced to Never Never Land in the early years and in 1923 (long before Michael Jackson named his estate), it became Neverland.

Barrie’s friendship with the Arthur Llewelyn Davies’ family was perhaps the most profound relationship of his life; to them, he was “Uncle Jim” and he stayed involved with their lives until adulthood. In 1910, within 3 years of each other, the otherwise affluent boys lost both of their parents, so Barrie was the boys’ life-line, too.

The Llwelyn-Davies boys (especially the 3 eldest: George, Jack and Peter) inspired the Peter Pan stories, and he sought to have the youngest immortalized as the model for a bronze sculpture he commissioned to be placed in Kensington Gardens, in the depths of night. In the morning, he found the artist had secretly used another child for the model. Although disappointed, Barrie allowed the statue to remain in Kensington Gardens where you can see it today.

In 1913, Barrie became a baronet and in 1915, he was named rector of St. Anrews University. J. M. Barrie bequeathed the copyright and all future proceeds to the Great Ormond Hospital for children, in London, and when Barrie died of pneumonia, in 1937, the hospital gained a huge benefit to pass along to decades of ill children. When you visit London, know that the hospital honors Barrie in many ways, for you to enjoy.

As a treat for the children traveling with you (or for your inner-child), consider these activities:

Travel to 14 Bury Place, Holburn (in the Bloomsbury part of London) to go to the London Review Bookshop. It has a fabulous selection of books and a great children’s section. There’s even a tea shop. Once there, look for a copy of “Peter Pan in Scarlet”, the official sequel to Peter Pan, written by Geraldine McCaughrean.

Next travel a little further to visit 119 Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross London. There, at Angels Fancy Dress Shop, you can find all sizes of Tinker Bell, Captain Hook and Peter Pan costumes to don. Get there before 4:30pm.

Next, continue on to the Duke of York Theatre on St. Martin’s Lane where the Peter Pan play debuted in 1904. Then go on the Underground to the Lancaster Gate station and walk to 100 Bayswater Road, to see the home where Barrie wrote Peter Pan; it has a blue plaque. Another of Barries’ homes will soon be opened in the Dumfries section of London.

Also, be sure to take the children to Kensington Gardens to see the Peter Pan statue and to play in the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Playground — which includes a huge pirate ship!

Doing all this, you may just find that Tinkerbell’s “pixie dust” has helped you find a little “lost child” inside you, too. Enjoy!

Learn More:
J. M. Barrie Biography

©2009 Mystic at Travel Vacation Review