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NA210212 - BARRIE, J.M.: Peter Pan (Abridged)
J. M. Barrie
“The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up” has held a particularly tender place in
our hearts since he flew in through our window in 1904. Dressed in green, gnashing his pearly-white teeth and scorning all grown-ups, he struck a deep chord in children and the adults (who themselves, alas, could not desist the onset of puberty) that they eventually became.
Little by little, Peter Pan was conceived through a series of stories told to the five orphaned boys to whom J. M. Barrie offered his home after the death of their parents, his friends, Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. He wrought the material into a play, which was first performed in 1904 at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, and was an overwhelming triumph. Two years later, the story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens followed and in 1911 Barrie retold the original Peter Pan in the form of a short novel (the version which has been used for this audiobook).
James Matthew Barrie, born in 1860, was himself the ninth of ten children of a Scottish weaver. He was devoted to his mother who is remembered in his biography of her, Margaret Ogilvy (1896), and their close relationship is believed to be behind his withdrawal from the adult world and the heartfelt
references to motherhood and maternal goodness that are so evident in Peter Pan. His other works, including the plays Quality Street (1901), The Admiral Crichton (1902) and What Every Woman Knows (1906) were well received at the time but, despite this, his name has become inextricably connected with that of Peter Pan alone. Barrie was knighted in 1913. When he died in 1937, he bequeathed all royalties from Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital
for Sick Children. A special Act of Parliament then enabled this arrangement
to continue even after the work went out of copyright 50 years later.
The story’s worldwide popularity is due in part, of course, like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, to the winning combination of exciting adventure, colorful characters and wicked villains along with the fantasy element added by fairies, mermaids and flying. But Peter Pan’s uniqueness shines through in the passages where Barrie describes a fictional nonsense with such a down-to-earth and detailed authority that children swallow it whole (and even their parents are left wondering...).
The “nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning”... Lost shadows needing to be sewn back on to their owners... The children who fall out of their perambulators when the nurse is looking the other way and who are sent far away to the Neverland... — all come across as perfectly logical and credible phenomena.
As well as thrilling children, Peter Pan also imparts messages of truth to its adult readers. Peter Pan epitomizes childhood, he inspires love — thus he can be seen “in the faces of many women who have no children... and in the faces of some mothers also”. Many will also agree with Barrie’s warning that “Every child is affected thus [i.e. horrified] the first time he is treated unfairly. After you have been unfair to him ... he will never afterwards be quite the same boy. No one ever gets over the first unfairness...” In sections like this, a kind of ‘aside’ to the adult reader, Barrie’s words remind us of our own childhood and in doing so prompt us to raise our own children with empathy.
It is almost a hundred years since Peter Pan entered the world. Who or what is he today? A pantomime character played by young actresses in green tights; a cultural icon; an inspiration and role model to the occasional pop star; the nation’s dream-child; a statue in Kensington Gardens; the subject of endless deconstruction and even Freudian analysis... Perhaps we should leave it to Peter himself to answer the question:
“I’m youth, I’m joy,” Peter answered at a venture, “I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.”
Notes by Anna Britten
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