MARCH / APRIL 2012: BY CAROL STARKEY
I have always enjoyed the story of Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up.
He has always intrigued me, an ageless boy who takes three children from our world into his. But as I learned the story behind the author, J. M. Barrie, I saw that Peter for all his strengths and independence is also a tragic figure, one who will always be lost, even more so than the Lost Boys he claims responsibility for.
When Barrie was a young boy he lost his brother, David. This was particularly hard on his mother since David was her favorite. His death affected her so greatly that Barrie dressed in his dead brother’s clothes in order to get his mother to notice him, and even that was not enough. Some have speculated that Barrie’s small stature was due in part to wanting to be the son his mother lost.
As an adult he befriended the Davies family and became especially close to the five boys. After the death of their father, then their mother, Barrie became even closer by becoming a guardian to the children.
In the story of Peter Pan, we can see Barrie’s life echoed. As a baby, Peter fell from his pram and ran away. He enjoyed his freedom but when he tried to return home, he found the window barred and another baby in his place. After David died, Barrie felt he had lost his mother’s love. Just as Wendy became a surrogate mother to the lost boys, Barrie become a much-needed surrogate to the Davies boys.
The biggest difference between Barrie and Peter is that Barrie grew up. As an adult, he was able to love and care for the boys, and his relationship with his mother grew better over time. Peter always thought of mothers and growing up with disdain, but Barrie knew we must all grow up… and also that we all need our mothers.
As an adult, how happy he must have been to care for those five boys, boys like him who had lost someone dear and needed to forget their loss in a story. And what a story! The story of a boy whose life is filled with adventure, a boy who can fly and is friends with mermaids and fairies, a boy who fights pirates every day. Peter had no rules, no one to answer to, but was in charge of his own life.
Yet in searching deeper, you can see that beneath Peter’s bold exterior is someone fragile. He feared Tink dying, couldn’t stand the idea of the Lost Boys having different or better memories of their mothers, and he wanted nothing to do with growing older. And that is the greatest difference between J. M. Barrie and Peter Pan. Peter will always be a reckless child, never changing. But in contrast, Barrie grew up, and his life counted.
Barrie wrote dozens of stories and plays in his lifetime but none is as beloved or well remembered as Peter Pan. The story has lived on in many different forms: Broadway productions, Disney movies, tales of Peter grown up, even other authors trying to fill in the missing pieces to Peter’s life. In this way, as well, Barrie differs from Peter. He grew up and lived a full life. And though he died an aged man, he will never truly die. He lives on through the story of Peter Pan. Almost a century after his death, Barrie is still here, in no danger of dying. He has, in a sense, become to many of us… Peter Pan. ♥
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Starkley lives in the beautiful state of Connecticut. She has a husband, three daughters and numerous pets. She works part-time while working and going to school. She loves to write, read, and take pictures of life around her. Her blog is updated infrequently, but she hopes to change that after she graduates. She’s a Christian, and hopes that ultimately her life will point to him. She also blogs.