“I don’t want to go to school and learn solemn things,” says Peter Pan in J.M. Barrie’s beloved novel, Peter Pan. This quote makes me think of the college literature courses I was so excited to take but with which I quickly became disenchanted. At the time, literary analysis seemed like a sterile autopsy of the books I so loved, stripping beauty from the words one syllable at a time.
I think this is why I so love Peter Pan. The innocence of childhood and the lost wonder of adulthood is told in that sentimental, and sometimes haunting, way of Edwardian prose. Its oddness and magic are worn on the outside. There is no need to delve deep to find its heart.
That said, I will not delve too deeply into Barrie’s personal life or motivations—hardened hearts will always sink to the bottom—but here are some interesting details of the man and his work:
- Because of childhood emotional trauma, Barrie suffered from psychogenic dwarfism, a condition that affects a child’s growth, and he only reached a height of 4’10”. In essence, he never grew up.
- Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was originally a play written in 1904. It was novelized several years later as Peter and Wendy.
- Barrie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were good friends. Conan Doyle even collaborated with him on a libretto for which Barrie was commissioned but struggling with. The two were unable to save the plot and the operetta failed miserably.
- A lovely statue of Peter Pan resides in Kensington Garden, London, UK. The garden helped inspire several of Barrie’s works, including Peter Pan. With the aid of a nearby plaque and your smartphone, you can hear a message from Peter.
- One of Barrie’s favorite actors, Gerald du Maurier starred as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in the premier stage production of Peter Pan. Du Maurier was the uncle of the four boys who served as character inspiration for Peter Pan, and he was the father of Daphne de Maurier, the author of Rebecca.
These days, I don’t mind a bit of analysis. After all, what is writing but a hedge maze for parable, metaphor, allegory, and hidden meanings.
This is the first in a series of posts about classic children’s literature. Next up, another character in green—lincoln green, that is:
The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green