Misunderstood or Malevolent?

 If you are familiar with the rather 'twee' Disney, version of  Peter Pan, based on the famous book by J.M. Barrie, or the 2004 film, Finding Neverland, which portrayed Barrie as a charming yet eccentric fellow, your surprise will be evident, as was mine, when I heard the 'real' story. Yet it is difficult to really know what is truly 'real' and what is manufactured. Was Barrie misunderstood, as some claim, or was he malevolent as others emphatically counter.

James Matthew Barrie in 1890Credit: Wikipedia

Born in Scotland

The man, who would become Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet , was born in Scotland to a father who was a weaver. As to Barrie's mother, well this is where the tale becomes twisted and strange. His mother apparently idolised Barrie's brother, David, however David died two days before he turned 14, from an ice skating accident. A pall settled over the household, as the devastated and depressed mother took to her bed.Young Barrie, who was six a the time, began wearing his dead brothers clothes and whistling the tunes that David had whistled before his death. It is understandable that the young, confused child, who stood for hours outside his mothers darkened room, would try to fill the hole in his mothers affections, but this was not to be.

Barrie wrote many years later, that on one occasion, when he entered his mother's room she called out 'Is that you?' 'I thought it was the dead boy she was speaking to'. This is a sad and poignant scene and perhaps explains why Barrie may have suffered psychogenic dwarfism and seemed to become 'the boy who never grew up'.

The Dark Side

Dark claims, have been made against Barrie in regard to his brother's death, by writer Piers Dudgeon in his book with the captivating subtitle The Dark Side of Never Never Land, and Barrie curiously, was also a man with a unconsumated marriage who divorced his wife for infidelity. Then there is  his rather strange adoption of three boys, who just happened to be the cousins of Daphne du Maurier. 

The writer D.H. Lawrence, also made a curious and ominous remark about Barrie claiming that: 'J.M. Barrie has a fatal touch for those he loves. They die'.  Whether Barrie can be blamed for the dizzying calamities that befell his family, from disease to suicides remains to be seen. There are however many of Barrie's well preserved letters and notebooks available, which can tell us something about the man, yet only one very curious and faintly disturbing letter remains, written by Barrie to his 'adopted son', Michael. Peter, the brother of Michael destroyed the rest of the letters before he threw himself under a train. His comment as to why he did this 'They were too much'.

The Copyright of Peter Pan

Barrie is a confusing man. On the one hand he is a man who left the copyright of Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital and on the other he is a man who left  a curse:

'May God blast anyone who writes a biography of me'

As to who was the 'real' man behind Peter Pan? That we may never know.

Peter Pan in the Botanic Gardens of Dunedin, New Zealand.Credit: by bagpipe_artist

Disney Classics: Peter Pan

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