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The Tragic Story Of The Children That Inspired ‘Peter Pan’

The real Lost Children never made it to Neverland 😢

Peter Pan is an endearing classic that is often read to children to teach a lesson about the value of family affection and the sweetness of innocence. The original tale was written by the Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie; it was so innovative and authentic that it has been adapted multiple times for many different productions. Each new adaptation has highlighted different values, from Disney's 1953 animated film to 2015's Pan, Journey to Neverland.

Peter Pan, the book

J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan made its first appearance in 1902 in The Little White Bird, a novel loosely based on George Llewelyn Davies (who we'll talk about later). It was about a baby who could become a bird and the fairies taught him to fly in the gardens of London. The success among the public was such that the writer decided to create a book devoted to this character and called it Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

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The book was published in 1906 and became so popular that Barrie began writing a play called Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. The play never made it to the stage but was adapted into a novel called Peter and Wendy.

In the original story, Peter leaves home to never grow old. He arrives in Neverland trusting his mother will always leave her window open for him. Peter happily plays with the birds without fear of losing her affection; however, when he decides to return to her, he is heartbroken to find out that there are bars on the windows and that his mother is hugging another baby. Peter realizes that his mother's love was conditional and that she has replaced him. As you can see, the story of Peter Pan is much more tragic than the story Disney told us.

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In the original script, there was no fairy dust; it was added later for safety reasons. Initially, Peter and the Lost Children could fly whenever they wanted. However, after several reports of children injuring themselves trying to fly out of bed, Barrie added fairy dust, and the characters could not fly without it.

Real-life Peter Pan

The Llewelyn Davies family

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According to an article in Cosmopolitan, two influences in Barrie's life inspired the creation of Peter Pan. The first was David, Barrie's older brother, who tragically died at 13 while skating on a frozen lake (passing through a thin surface that broke). The loss of this family member greatly affected the family dynamic; Barrie grew up ignored by his parents and craving affection.

The second and most important inspiration was the Llewelyn Davies children, great friends of Barrie. In 1897, Barrie met a married couple formed by Arthur Llewelyn Davies and Sylvia du Maurier; they had three children George (4), John (3), and Peter (2). Three years later, the fourth son Michael arrived, and in 1903, Nicholas was born. Barrie managed to form a very close bond with George (who inspired the baby in The White Little Bird) and Michael. Sadly the couple died ten years later, and Barrie was left to take care of his children.

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Barrie and Michael playing

George died fighting in World War I, and despite the devastation, Barrie managed to overcome the loss to keep taking care of the other boys. However, the special relationship he had with the boys was seen as immoral even when the boys always denied the accusations. Michael's sudden and tragic death, which was linked to intimate homosexual acts, did not help Barrie's case. Like Barrie's brother, Michael died in a frozen river; he was found naked and embracing a companion.

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Years later, Peter wrote a book called Morgue, which included some correspondence with Barrie. In his book, Peter talked about the relationship between Barrie and the family. Shortly after its publication, Peter ended his life by throwing himself onto a train track. Surprisingly, the real Peter didn't like that his name was associated with the book and the character of Peter Pan. His son Ruthven revealed that he hated being associated with the iconic character.

Michael Llewelyn Davies dressed as Peter Pan

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Peter Pan always gave off a dark vibe, very different from the children's books that are published today. Moreover, Disney is very well known for turning tragic stories into fairy tale dreams. However, the influences of J.M. Barrie's original Peter Pan were more devastating and tragic than one would imagine.

Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards

Read more:

The Tragic Novel That Saved Notre Dame's Cathedral
The Children's Book Series That Inspired Hitler's Military Tactics

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