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What Inspired J M Barrie to Write Peter Pan?

Come watch the Peter Pan pantomime at the Grand between 6th December 2019 and 5th January 2020 – it’s fantastic for families!

But did you know the inspiration behind Peter Pan is darker than it seems?

Early Life Tragedy

Many speculate that Peter Pan has its origins in Barrie’s early life. When he was six years old, his 13-year-old brother David died in an ice-skating accident. Barrie’s mother was absolutely devastated as David was her favourite child.

As a young boy, Barrie did what he could to become his brother – even wearing his brother’s clothes. Barrie spent hours upon hours with his mother as she told his stories of her childhood and read books together.

peter pan

He tried to comfort his mother until she mistook him for his deceased older brother, however, she took comfort in the thought that her son would always remain a boy. This is something that stuck with Barrie throughout his life.

Barrie never grew taller than 5 feet tall, also becoming convinced somewhere deep down within him that life’s greatest catastrophe was leaving childhood. As a young child, Barrie spent time playing pirate games with his friends, which he said were “in a sort of Odyssey that was long afterwards to become the play of Peter Pan.”

Peter pan

Peter Pan and Barrie

Peter Pan isn’t a simple character; Barrie based him on several people, even himself. The boy who refused to grow up is presented as Barrie felt: an inadequate outsider in British society. Peter is also similar to Barrie in the apparent lack of sexual desire; Barrie married but never had children in spite of loving them and his wife desperately wanting them.

Peter has a similar story, as Wendy wants him to act like a father but he can’t imagine what she actually wants from him. Barrie wrote in his personal journey: “Greatest horror—dream I am married—wake up shrieking.” And perhaps this is also how Peter would have reacted. It may be no surprise that Barrie’s marriage deteriorated and ended in 1909, as his wife sought consolation in the arms of another man.

Llewelyn Davies Family

The Llewelyn Davies (Artur, Sylvia, and the boys, George, Peter, John also known as ‘Jack’, Michael, and Nicholas) were a big inspiration behind Peter Pan. Barrie met George, aged five, and Jack, aged four at Kensington Gardens as he walked his Sr Bernard, Porthos.

In the family, Barrie finally found what he was looking for: a happy mother and boys he could call his own. Together, they invented Neverland, Nana the dog, Tinkerbell, the crocodile, the Lost Boys, and the ticking clock. 

Barrie became Uncle Jim and Peter Pan’s story grew into what we know and love today.