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Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

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Professional success and personal failure of James M. Barrie In researching the many odd and bizarre happenings of our unique culture, it is certain that truth is often stranger than fiction. The first paragraph of James Barrie’s classic story “Peter Pan” introduced its central theme: “All children except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up”¦this is the beginning of the end.” It sounds innocent enough, but a look at Barrie’s life gives it a more sinister twist. Although J.M.Barrie wrote many plays and stories, it was said that “All of Barrie’s life led up to the creation of Peter Pan,” wrote James Merritt, one of his biographers.

A pivotal point came in 1866 when James, (the ninth in a Scottish family of ten), was six years old: His brother David, the pride of the family, died in a skating accident. Barrie’s mother was devastated. To comfort her, James began mimicking David’s speech and imitating his mannerisms. This bizarre charade went on for years and only became stranger when at the age of thirteen, the same age at which David died, James literally stopped growing, totaling only a height of five feet.

From childhood, James had a real passion for creating stories and plays. Soon after graduating from Edinburgh University, he moved to London to pursue his career as a writer. In 1880 his novels about his beloved mother, “wandering little girl” put him on the road to fame and he soon became one of England’s most famous writers.

In 1899, Barrie befriended the Davies family and their nurse, he became a frequent caller at their home where he would bring along his St. Barnard- Porthos (who is later noted as the nurse””dog “Nana” in Peter Pan). Mr. Davies, was busy tending to his struggling career as a lawyer spent little time with his family. Barrie idolized the children George, John, and Peter. Only with them could he truly be himself. James met with them daily, creating and acting out stories, playing Indians, and pretending to be pirates by forcing each other to “walk the plank”. In 1901, Barrie printed only two copies of an essay book of his adventures with the Davies boys. He entitled it “The Boy castaways of Black Lake Island.” He gave one of the copies to Mr. Davies (who was said to have mistakenly left it on the train).

The next year, Barrie published these adventures in a novel called “The Little White Bird.” In a story within a story, the narrator tells “David” (Young George Davies) about Peter Pan, a young boy who flies away from his parents to live with fairies. The book was so popular that readers begged Barrie to give them more of Peter Pan. Barrie began to think back to when he would take the Davies boys to Christmas dramas. These dramas always featured a hero and heroine (both played by actresses), fight scenes, good fairies, characters flying on wires, a demon king, and the highlight of the act -a transformation scene in which an ordinary world became a fairyland. The Davies boys were so entranced by the events that Barrie thought to put his Peter Pan in a similar event. Barrie always acknowledged that the Davies boys’ free “”spirited youth was inspiration for Peter Pan.

On the dedication page of the printed version of the play he wrote, “I made Peter Pan by rubbing the five of you together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame.” The Davies family served as Barries’ models for the Darling’s in the play. As for the author, he appears as Captain James Hook, who looses his right hand. Barrie who was ambidextrous switched to left hand writing soon after suffering paralysis from tendonitis, and he was quoted as saying that “It (the left hand) had an altogether eerier quality than the more rational right hand”. Barrie added a sister to Peter Pan; Wendy modeled after the deceased daughter of a friend. The six-year-old girl had called Barrie her “fwendy” (friend) and from that, Barrie invented the name Wendy. It rapidly became one of England’s most popular girls names.

The first play was performed in 1904, with an actress as Peter; a tradition that continues to this day. “Peter Pan” was an immediate success, one review compared Barries’ genius with that of Barries good friend and neighbor, George Bernard Shaw. Among his ever-widening circle of friends, was Conan Doyle, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and in 1913 King George the fifth dubbed him a baronet, Sir James Barrie.

With his amazing powers of concentration, he worked hard all his life and was able to be generous to family and friends. He replied to all who wrote to him, as writing was everything to Barrie. At one point, his agent had defrauded him and other writers came to his rescue stopping at nothing to have the man prosecuted, the agent eventually committed suicide. Barrie gave the man’s younger brother the job, which he kept for over thirty years without a word of scandal ever breathed.

Barrie’s fame was short lived however, before a slew of unusual and true events preceded upon him. Ironically the outcome of the “real Peter Pan” family bears little resemblance to that of the fictional Peter Pan fairytale that Barrie dedicated his life to. All of Barrie’s life leads up to the creation of Peter Pan one might say, as stated earlier, but is this the ending that we or Barrie himself , would think would come of those “lost boys” and the fairytale-“hero takes all” life that he so wished for himself and us as readers? Barrie’s life takes a downward spiral as he learns of the death of his sister, who was known as the dutiful attendant to his ailing mother. Three days later, Mrs. Barrie on her seventy-sixth birthday, after a lengthy illness, also died. They were buried together. Soon after Arthur Davies died of cancer, James and Sylvia Davies had a brief engagement, before she too, was overcome by cancer.

Suddenly Barrie was the legal guardian of five boys ages seven to seventeen. He devoted his life to them. Some biographers claim that the Davie brothers grew very uncomfortable with their lives because of Barrie being overbearing and possessive. And yet, on the other hand, Barrie had little affection for his own real family, his brother’s grandchildren, whom he was also named guardian of. It is said that although he paid for their education, he refused to see them. George, the eldest Davies child and Barrie’s favorite, died in World War I in 1915. Michael drowned in a pool at Oxford, although rumors were spread of suicide. John married and distanced himself from Barrie. Peter Davies committed suicide as an adult in an attempt to escape, some say, from forever being called “Peter Pan”.

Barrie ended up famous and rich, but a sad and lonely man. Just before he died in 1937, he willed all proceeds from the copyright of Peter Pan to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for sick children. Millions of dollars were obtained from his bequest.

Normally, under British law, copyrights may extend no longer than 50 years before becoming public property. Parliament made an exception in this special case, and allowed the hospital to continue offering pediatric care because of the boy who never grew up. He is buried in Scotland next to his parents, sister, and brother David.

In conclusion, one might say that Barrie took a really sad reality and turned it into fantasy. Some say that by staying a little boy Barrie could retain his mothers’ love. In this fantasy, Barrie dealt with his retention of childish innocence and what he conceived to be the famine instinct for motherhood. He stresses his personal ironic view of life as a romantic adventurer. Now we are to wonder, is “Neverland” all it is cracked up to be?

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